A new study conducted by SANE Australia finds almost half of all Australians still have a very limited understanding of schizophrenia and the everyday reality of living with the illness.
The study (conducted in conjunction with Virtual Medical Centre), surveyed nearly 900 people with 49 per cent admitting to having a poor understanding of schizophrenia and its impact.
"The findings are disappointing but not surprising," says SANE Australia’s Executive Director Barbara Hocking. "A lot of education is still needed about the realities of schizophrenia – the fact is, with treatment, the majority of those affected lead full lives and participate in the community.
"Unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination towards those with schizophrenia, which is not helped by persistent myths about the illness. The most common myth confuses schizophrenia with so-called ‘split personality’, which is not the case.
"Another myth is that people affected by schizophrenia are violent, when in fact research shows that they are more likely to be victims of violence than to commit violent acts themselves."
One in a hundred people will develop schizophrenia during their lives. More males than females are affected and 75% develop the illness between 16 and 25 years.
Schizophrenia is an illness which influences the normal functioning of the brain, affecting its ability to interpret information and make sense of the world. Symptoms can include confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations, difficulty expressing emotions and withdrawal from others. There is no cure for schizophrenia but treatment, which includes medication, psychological therapy and community support and accommodation programs, can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms.
SANE Australia and Virtual Medical Centre Poll
Most people with schizophrenia live and many work and study in their local community. How good do you think your understanding is of schizophrenia and what it’s like to live with? (Total responses 891)
"Through events such as Schizophrenia Awareness Week we can hope to break down the stigma surrounding the illness by encouraging conversation and help-seeking behaviour," says Ms Hocking.
SANE produces a number of education resources about schizophrenia to help people understand and make sense of the illness, as a first step to coping with its effects. SANE also operates a StigmaWatch program, which works with the community to monitor media portrayals of mental illness and suicide, advocating accurate and respectful media portrayal.
Schizophrenia Awareness Week runs 17–23 May 2009.
(Source: SANE Australia: May 2009)