Schizophrenia Awareness Week has been launched in a push to deter the stigma surrounding schizophrenia.
David Meldrum, Executive Director at the Mental Illness Awareness Fellowship, told Catalyst schizophrenia continues to be largely stigmatised and misconceived in society due to the preconceptions that follow the illness.
“Society has made huge progress with all mental illnesses, getting to the point where they can be easily talked about,” he said. “However schizophrenia remains stuck there with a very high level of fear and stigma.”
Meldrum says some people have the idea that those suffering from schizophrenia “are too violent” and “that it is an untreatable disease”. He warns those living with schizophrenia are only being “damaged further” through these beliefs.
Jack Heath, CEO of SANE Australia, agrees. He says a constant issue is “this notion of a split personality”.
Heath says these beliefs are further instilling a feeling of fear among those suffering from the illness, as they are too afraid to speak out in fear of being judged.
“Quite often, carers of people suffering from schizophrenia receive criticism due to association,” he said. “Families of a person with this illness are in fear of being ostracised from their communities.”
Meldrum goes on to say that the illness shouldn’t be judged because it is “very common” in society.
“For every classroom of thirty children, one child has a relative who has the illness,” he said. According to Meldrum, this shows the prevalence of schizophrenia and shows sufferers need support not prejudice.
In a major survey conducted in 2011 by the Australian government, is was found the most common psychotic illness in society is schizophrenia.
Heath says around two thirds of people with the illness are diagnosed by the age of 25, and that some cases are detected as early as 20 years of age.
In order to diminish the stigma surrounding schizophrenia, Heath says campaigns such as the Schizophrenia Awareness Week are being created to combat misleading preconceptions and provide support to those suffering from this illness.
“Schizophrenia sufferers can live a normal life and contribute to the society through employment, just like every other person living without the disease can,” he said.
Schizophrenia Awareness Week runs until 24 May.
If you would like more information regarding this campaign or have any queries please contact sane.org or call 1800 18 SANE (7263).
By Shaye Milford
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