May 17
Shedding light on schizophrenia

The Western NSW and Far West Local Health Networks are joining national efforts to increase public awareness about schizophrenia and mental illness during Schizophrenia Awareness Week (15-22 May 2011).

Clinical Nurse Educator Julie de Sousa said schizophrenia is often surrounded by myths, misunderstanding, and negative stereotypes.

“For approximately 250,000 Australians living with schizophrenia, the stigma associated with this complex mental illness can exacerbate the isolation they experience,” said Ms De Sousa.

“Schizophrenia Awareness Week presents us all with an opportunity to break down the stigma associated with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.”

Ms De Sousa said people often mistake schizophrenia is a ‘split personality’, which can increase negative perceptions of the condition.

“Schizophrenia refers to the person’s mental function and it is a split from reality rather than a ‘split’ in the mind or personality,” said Ms de Sousa.

Symptoms include disordered thoughts, dulled or distorted senses, hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing images), delusions, paranoia, loss of feeling or inability to experience normally pleasurable activities, and impaired thought processes, speech and social interaction.

“Whilst hallucinations and delusions may be non-existent to others, they are powerfully real and disturbing for the person experiencing them,” said Ms de Sousa.

“It is important to remember that none of these symptoms by themselves indicate the presence of schizophrenia or another mental illness, but if they are severe, persistent or recurrent, professional help should be sought as soon as possible.”

Schizophrenia generally presents in late adolescence or early adulthood, while people are developing their personality, building relationships, or embracing new challenges such as higher education. Early warning signs of schizophrenia can include disorganised thinking, social withdrawal, emerging unusual beliefs and self-harming behaviour.

“There is no definitive answer as to what causes schizophrenia and whilst many advances have been made in recent times, there is currently no cure,” said Ms de Sousa.

“Schizophrenia affects men and women equally across all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.  Some people may only experience one or a few brief episodes of schizophrenia, while for others it may develop into a chronic condition requiring life-long management.”

Improvements in both medical and psychological treatments are providing hope for people diagnosed with schizophrenia.  

“Early intervention can help reduce the severity of symptoms and if treatment is successful, people with schizophrenia to live full and productive lives,” said Ms de Sousa.

Medication is essential for effective treatment of schizophrenia for most people and many advances have been made in regards to medication and side-effects in recent years. Medication works best in collaboration with other treatments such as vocational
rehabilitation, social rehabilitation and counselling.

If you have concerns regarding schizophrenia, or any other mental health issues, contact the Mental Health Line (24/7) on 1800 011 511 or see your GP.

For further information regarding Schizophrenia Awareness Week, visit the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW website at www.sfnsw.org.au.