About 51 million people around the world suffer from schizophrenia, yet half of the general public doesn’t understand what schizophrenia really is. A UK non-profit Rethink Mental Illness conducted a survey amongst 1,500 and found that misconceptions about the illness abound - a reality that can make life even worse for those who suffer from the condition and have to live amongst family, friends and colleagues who harbor prejudices or are unaware of the inequalities people who have the illness face.
50% of the surveyed people, for example, mistakenly think that schizophrenia means you have a ‘split’ personality. 26% wrongly believe that schizophrenia makes you violent and 23% incorrectly think that someone with schizophrenia needs to be monitored by professionals at all times. In fact, most who live with the condition have various coping mechanisms, but unfortunately may not be able to openly seek help from their loved ones or even from professionals.
Penn State student Cecilia McGough, gave an emotional TEDx talk this year titled “I Am Not A Monster,” sharing her own experience with the illness. She talks about how she had to battle with the prejudices of her own mother, who didn’t want her to look for professional help out of fear of stigmatizing her entire family.
Living with schizophrenia is a deeply personal experience that may take many forms. Those diagnosed with the illness may experience hallucinations and delusions with varying intensity. The symptoms may also be milder, like disorganized thinking, lack of motivation, changes in body language and emotions.
The causes of the disease are unknown, but they are believed to be a mixture of genetic and environmental factors, like stresses during pregnancy or childhood. The use of some drugs like marijuana may also contribute to the occurring of symptoms.
Schizophrenia can affect many aspects of the person’s life beyond the experience of symptoms. For example, people with schizophrenia die 15 to 20 years earlier than the rest of the population on average. And only 8% of those with the illness who want to work are currently employed. Suicide is also a big problem - 1 in 10 people with schizophrenia take their own life and 4 in 10 make at least one attempt to do so.
It’s hard to imagine what living with schizophrenia can be like, so Rethink Mental Illness has created this eerie video to simulate the experience of hearing voices.
Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, said for the BBC:
"It's about time we all got to grips with what schizophrenia is and what it isn’t. Schizophrenia can be treated and managed, just like many other illnesses. It's not a dirty word or, worse, a term of abuse. The symptoms of schizophrenia don't fit neatly into a box, everyone will experience it differently. However, we can all play a role in rethinking schizophrenia, and helping to change attitudes, by learning to separate the myths from the facts.”