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This week (6-10 October) is schizophrenia awareness week and with about 1 in 100 people experiencing the condition in their lifetime it is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. A disorder that impacts how someone thinks, schizophrenia ranks among the top ten clauses of global disability.
Schizophrenia is a stigmatised and misunderstood mental illness and, contrary to some beliefs, people with schizophrenia do not have a ‘split’ personality and they are no more likely to display violent behaviour than anyone else.
There are a range of psychological symptoms associated with schizophrenia, including hallucinations and delusions, where those living with the condition often hear or see things that don’t exist and they have unusual beliefs that are not based on reality. These hallucinations and delusions can lead to changes in behaviour and confusion as the person cannot always distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality. People living with schizophrenia can also feel withdrawn or unmotivated and their jumbled thoughts can also lead to difficulties when trying to have conversations.
The symptoms that people with schizophrenia live with can also lead to unpredictable behaviour. They may become agitated and shout or swear for no apparent reason which others may find uncomfortable or strange. But rather than judge we should be more understanding and be there to help people who may be feeling scared, confused and isolated.
Bromford colleague Chris Bowen explains how he supported a lady who had lived with schizophrenia for many of her sixty years.
“As with many people with poor mental health, she wasn’t referred to our services because of her illness but rather the side effects – in this case she was in financial difficulties and she had also been hoarding for years.
“When we first met Margaret* her small, one bedroom flat was full of boxes and clothes - she had no storage, and years worth of paperwork lay all around the flat. She was also struggling with physical health problems that were impacting on her personal hygiene – Margaret was unable to bath but because of her schizophrenia she had become withdrawn and felt unable to approach anyone for help.
“I began by encouraging her to look at her flat a bit like a chess board – this helped her to start clearing up – one section at a time. She bought herself a concertina file for important letters and the slow process of turning the flat into a home began. Over the coming weeks piles of her belongings were either thrown away, given to charity or tidied away.
“During this time we helped Margaret onto a budgeting course to help her manage her finances and we made contact with the occupational therapist who assessed her as in need of a wet-room. This was fantastic news but it wasn’t long before Margaret’s condition held her application back. Because of her paranoia, she wouldn’t answer her phone if it showed ‘private’ or ‘number withheld’ and this, unfortunately for Margaret, was the way that occupational therapists arrange appointments. It was only through continued support and encouragement that, eventually, Margaret felt confident enough to answer the phone and arrange to get her wet-room fitted.”
Thanks to the patience and persistence of Chris, Margaret’s life is now more organised - she is still living with schizophrenia but has learned to manage her condition a little more and is happier and healthier. Hopefully, by raising awareness of schizophrenia more people like Margaret will receive the understanding and support that they need to help them to gain the confidence to take control of their lives.
For more information, take a look at this infographic produced by Rethink.