May is Schizophrenia Awareness month, which is a good time to be reminded what schizophrenia is (and more importantly!) what it is not. Over decades, inaccurate news reporting and film and literature stereotyping have given the general community a distorted understanding of schizophrenia, a disorder which affects about 1 in 100 or between 150,000 and 200,000 Australians.

Contrary to some beliefs people suffering from schizophrenia do not have split personalities nor are they intellectually disabled. The cause of the illness is not yet known but we do know it can be an inherited disorder. Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder which is characterised by disruptions to thinking and emotions and can lead to a distorted perception of reality. The signs and symptoms usually begin in late adolescence or early childhood and the illness pays little attention to class, culture, race or gender. Symptoms can appear later in life for women.

About 20-30% of people with schizophrenia experience only a few brief episodes, but for others it is a chronic long-term condition that needs to be managed. Symptoms vary from person to person, and episode to episode, but the disorder is commonly characterised by delusions, hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing things that are not there), disorganised thinking and behaviour, and feeling less pleasure in day-to-day life. It is not surprising the illness can prove very distressing for the sufferer. It is also important to note ten percent of people with schizophrenia eventually commit suicide.

One of the erroneous beliefs around schizophrenia is that those diagnosed with it may are prone to violence. The facts indicate that a very small number of persons suffering from schizophrenia act aggressively and, most people living with schizophrenia and more likely to be survivors of violence rather than being the perpetrators. Ninety six percent of violence is in fact perpetrated by people who do not have schizophrenia.

Antipsychotic medications treat the disease but do not cure it. People living with schizophrenia can be assisted by the wider community learning and understanding more about the illness. If you are looking after a person who has schizophrenia, you can assist them by ensuring they keep good physical health, sleep, and have a trusted supportive network of friends and family. There are support groups listed below who can help both persons suffering from schizophrenia and the family and friends who support them. The development of a relapse prevention plan also enables identification of the warning signs of an onset of symptoms, what to do and who to contact for support.

Family and friends of someone with schizophrenia also need support and need to know it is ok to look after their own mental and physical health. There are many people who have similar experiences and many services designed to help people experiencing mental health issues.

It is important to remember effective medical, community, and psychological treatment is available and a person who experiences schizophrenia can live a fulfilling life.

For more information please see below.

  • For more in-depth information about managing life with schizophrenia, read SANE’s Schizophrenia guide.
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