Culture

It’s Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Here’s Why That’s Important

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that affects around 20 million people worldwide – but it’s still spoken about very little and there are a lot of misconceptions around it. 

schizophrenia awareness week

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Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that affects around 20 million people worldwide – but it’s still spoken about very little and there are a lot of misconceptions around it.

This week is Schizophrenia Awareness Week and it aims to draw attention to schizophrenia, highlight the voices of people with lived experience and encourage people to get support.

Schizophrenia has broad-ranging effects on people’s thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and behaviour.

But in a lot of cases, it’s a disorder that’s able to be treated and managed.

Jenni is a 27-year-old woman living with schizoaffective disorder and she told Junkee that she encounters a lot of misconceptions around her experience.

She was diagnosed with the disorder as a teenager but said she’s experienced auditory hallucinations for as long as she can remember.

SANE say that using words like ‘insanity’ or ‘psychotic’ to describe behaviour can contribute significantly to the stigma around disorders like schizophrenia.

“I have what they call positive symptoms and negative symptoms. I hear voices and have paranoia, delusions and other hallucinations. And then the negative stuff is more around mood and motivation,” Jenni said.

Jenni takes a holistic approach to managing her condition through taking antipsychotics, regular exercise, managing her diet, and breathing techniques but said it can still be incredibly tiring to deal with and she sleeps 12 hours a day.

She said that trying to communicate her experience with the wider world can be a bit frustrating because there’s a huge amount of misunderstanding about what schizophrenia is.

“I’ve had a lot of people think that I don’t have schizophrenia because I appear – in quotation marks – ‘normal’. Other people assume that I have a drug and alcohol dependence…other people just don’t understand.”

For mental health organisations like SANE, Schizophrenia Awareness Week is important for tackling those aspects of stigma and misunderstanding in terms of things like broad education but also more specific practices like adjusting language.

SANE say that using words like ‘insanity’ or ‘psychotic’ to describe behaviour can contribute significantly to the stigma around disorders like schizophrenia.

The media plays its own role in sensationalising mental illness and Jenni says there needs to be more realistic coverage and less sensationalism.

She told Junkee she works as a peer ambassador for SANE, because she wants to participate actively in education and advocacy for people who may not have the means or platforms to speak on their own behalf.

“I’ve had a lot of people think that I don’t have schizophrenia because I appear – in quotation marks – ‘normal’. Other people assume that I have a drug and alcohol dependence…other people just don’t understand.”

Jenni has even assisted Victoria Police by doing an on-camera interview to explain the experience of the disorder and improve procedures around assisting with people who are going through highly-distressing moments with mental illness.

“We do deal with stigma and misconceptions in day-today-life…being a peer ambassador is an opportunity to educate the wider community and influence the people who have that day-to-day contact with people with a mental illness,” she said.