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Schizophrenia - Fact & Fiction

Schizophrenia affects 1% of the population over a lifetime, or about a third of this number at any one time. Some people think of it as a condition or experience, others as an illness. It is not directly life-threatening, but does, sadly, lead to suicide for one person in 10 - ten times the normal rate.

With medication and support it can usually be well treated, but kindness, empathy and humanity are required.

The press gives a misleading impression: that people suffering from schizophrenia are violent and dangerous. Of course there can be exceptions, but most sufferers are usually sensitive and inward turning. It may be the pressure of modern life that drives (or triggers) some people to experience schizophrenia. Usually it occurs in the late teens or twenties, but there are exceptions. Some people need more medication, others less. Sometimes people can withdraw from medication, sometimes not. About a quarter of people recover completely - others need life-long support.

Schizophrenia - a recent concept

The term "schizophrenia" has only been used in psychiatry since 1911 - less than 100 years! It can be argued that it is a more sensitive state of consciousness - one that is harder to direct.

In other cultures and societies there have been holy people, priests, shamans, wizards, witch-doctors or witches. These were often regarded as guides in relation to the gods of the 'other world'. Perhaps some of these were people experiencing schizophrenia in olden times! It may be that some of humankind's great minds had such a condition?

Visions and voices are called "hallucinations" by doctors and nurses. Yet all the great religions tell of accounts of "hallucinations".

Schizophrenia - the experience

No two experiences of schizophrenia are exactly the same. Schizophrenia can be more or less intense. Doctors seek to manage symptoms - not enough support is given to people to "manage" their own lives.

Some people hear 'voices' which can be like a loud tannoy, whispers or compelling silent thoughts. Some say their voices are comforting. Others find them threatening. Often they can be controlled or reduced by medication, but not always. And some people find ways of living with (or alongside) their voices.

Not all people who experience schizophrenia hear voices, though. Many have one or more breakdowns linked with getting confused (in the form of "delusions") about what is happening in their life, or the world at large.

Many people who experience schizophrenia are creative or reflective individuals. They may enjoy painting, music, poetry, current affairs or philosophy. Lack of funding in community care means that often these talents never brighten the lives of the rest of society. Mental illness is one of the most misunderstood elements in society.

Schizophrenia - The future

What does the future hold for people with schizophrenia? Unfortunately, the coverage of schizophrenia by some sections of the press has been negative, resulting in sheltered housing or other community services being threatened by prejudice. Distressed people are labelled as "nutters", "psychos", etc. The Government has done nothing to protect the image of the mentally ill and emotionally vulnerable.

The future lies in educating the public about schizophrenia. It is not something like heart disease or cancer that can be easily identified. It involves people's personality - their very being. Many people have such a relative or friend.

The stigma of mental distress or schizophrenia is hurtful to bear. Education and legislation are needed to protect those who live with severe mental illness from society's ignorance.


Based on text by Stephen Owen

Published by National Perceptions Forum, Rethink, 15th Floor, 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TP.