Friday, 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day 2014 - Schizophrenia Awareness

It's World Mental Health Day today and after the loss of my brother to suicide, a day I'm always keen to support. This year the focus is on raising awareness of schizophrenia. It is a condition I know little about, as far as I know I don't know anybody with it (although of course the stigma surrounding the illness may mean I do know people affected but they haven't disclosed it). So it's not a condition that directly affects me nor am I a carer, family member or friend of somebody living with schizophrenia. So why am I writing about it today?
My brother's death was a thunderbolt for me, not just in losing him but also the sudden and stark reminder that mental illness can affect us all, either directly or through the suffering of those close to us. We need to accept that mental illness is just that, illness and we are all susceptible. Therefore just because I don't currently know anybody with schizophrenia it shouldn't mean I don't educate myself about the condition and days like World Mental Health Day mean I can learn more and add my voice to those asking for better understanding, more money to be spent on treatment and support, improving access to care and  ensuring people in need receive the benefits they are entitled to without stigma and discrimination. I believe we have a moral duty as fellow human beings to offer solidarity and advocacy, being a part of society means recognising our obligation to help even if we are not directly affected because ultimately being in that society means we are all affected.
Schizophrenia affects approximately 26 million people globally, people with the condition live 15 - 20 years less than the general population, they are 6 - 7 times more likely to be unemployed, are more often homeless and in contact with the criminal justice system and 5 - 10% more likely to take their own life. Yet treatment and recovery is possible. Around 25% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia recover fully and a further 25 - 35% show considerable improvement and lead relatively independent lives. It is therefore a major health inequality that so many people with schizophrenia die at a younger age than average. People with schizophrenia are often in poor physical health due to side-effects from anti-psychotic medication, the Mental Health Foundation wants that addressed by requiring that GP's carry out regular health checks for all people with severe mental health problems. It also wants NICE guidelines for the treatment and management of schizophrenia and psychosis to be correctly adhered to, to ensure that people diagnosed with the condition have full access to a range of treatment and support, with the best care possible to help them manage their condition and recover. People also need high quality, safe and rapid access to help when they are having a mental health crisis, that means hospitals should provide comprehensive liaison psychiatry services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A typical misleading and scaremongering headline
We need as a society to demand these rights for people living with mental illness, in the same way we demand the best treatment possible for people suffering physical illnesses. Many people believe mental health and physical health shouldn't be considered separately, the brain after all is a part of the body and people with mental health issues often have physical symptoms too. Indeed the World Health Organisation definition of health is as follows, " Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Recognising mental illness as a physical health issue could go some way to reducing stigma. We need therefore to learn to look beyond the scaremongering headlines, schizophrenia isn't a Care in the Community failure with hordes of dangerous psychotics roaming the streets, 99.7% of people suffering with schizophrenia will not be convicted of a violent crime in a given year, in fact sufferers are 14 times more likely to be a victim of violence. We need to revise old prejudices and realise that one way or another we are all living with schizophrenia and we all have an obligation to educate ourselves, to stop discriminating and to work with sufferers and advocates to ensure those diagnosed receive the full help and support that should be their right.
Statistics and facts taken from the Mental Health Foundation website, please click the link for more information on what schizophrenia is, living with the condition and what needs to be done to help.

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