According to the Mental Health Foundation, Schizophrenia effects around 26 million people worldwide.  Schizophrenia is a condition that attracts a lot of confusion, fear and misunderstanding.  This years focus for World Mental Health Day is "Living with Schizophrenia" and the aim is to raise awareness of the condition and the people who live with this diagnosis.

Schizophrenia falls into the group of mental health conditions known as psychotic conditions.  This means that sufferers will usually have some difficulty, at one time or another, distinguishing between reality and the creations of their own mind. 

Main Symptoms
  • Paranoia - a belief that things are not as they seem and that others mean you harm.
  • Hallucinations - these can effect any of the 5 senses and are sensory experiences that are triggered without an external stimulus.  These can include hearing voices and seeing visions.
  • Delusional thoughts - fixed false beliefs where the person believes a thought or collection of thoughts in spite of evidence to the contrary.
  • Lack of energy and motivation - this can affect the persons ability to care for themselves and get help.
  • Low mood.
  • Disorganised thinking with difficulty expressing own thoughts and feelings.
For many people they will only experience one full psychotic breakdown and any symptoms are well controlled by medication.  They may need to be extra mindful of their own stress levels as stress can often trigger a worsening of symptoms.  They may also require some support from their local mental health team and may need to see a psychiatrist.  This is no different to someone suffering any other chronic condition like diabetes or epilepsy.

It is also worth noting that someone being treated with Schizophrenia is no more likely to be violent than any other member of the population.  If you weren't prone to aggressive outbursts prior to the diagnosis then its very unlikely you will after being diagnosed.  Unfortunately the media will give you a skewed and sensationalist view of the condition because they chose to home in on the condition and highlight the rare cases where someone has been violent over the vast majority of cases where people aren't.  Imagine if physical conditions were given the same treatment by the press.  We would very soon be associating diabetes, epilepsy, asthma and many other physical conditions with aggressive behaviour. 

How can you support someone who has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia?

1. Don't refer to them as Schizophrenics
As a general rule of thumb try to avoid referring to anyone by a condition they are diagnosed with.  It implies that the person is their condition when they are individuals who have just been unlucky enough to have become unwell. Labelling someone by their diagnosis can also imply that this is all there is to that person.

2. Friendship
Partly because of the stigma attached to mental illness and partly because of the symptoms of the conditions themselves, mental illness can be incredibly isolating.  Offering company and friendship to someone who is unwell is vital. Mental illness affects an estimated quarter of the population at any one time and can affect anyone.  You don't need to know all the answers, just being there for someone and listening can be enough.

3. Learn More
If you know someone effected by mental illness there is a wealth of information out there to read, watch and listen to.  Learn about the condition and don't be afraid to ask questions.  Check the useful links section of this site for a list of helpful websites. 

4. Reserve Judgement
Don't always assume that because a person has a predisposition to being paranoid or experiencing symptoms of psychosis that every time they are upset it is just the illness rearing its head.  Listen to what the person is telling you, unpick any points that seem unclear and base your point of view on the evidence available rather than jumping to conclusions based on the persons mental health.

5. Work Together
Work with the person where ever possible to find a way through a difficult patch and try and be as open and honest about your concerns and questions as you can.  If a person is prone to feelings of paranoia then talking to professionals without the persons knowledge can fuel these anxieties.

6. Show Compassion
Someone may be behaving in a way that seems unusual or makes you uncomfortable but there is very probably an explanation.  For instance someone may be talking to themselves because they are hearing voices.  For some, responding to the voices they hear can be a good coping strategy.  Depending on the context and environment this may not be ideal.  If the person seems distressed then acknowledging this and offering support in the same way you would to someone experiencing bullying can be reassuring. 

7. Get Help
Mental illness is unfortunately still shrouded in a lot of shame and guilt.  This can make it hard to reach out to others and ask for help.  However when someone is very unwell this may be exactly what is needed and vital to the persons recovery.  Try to treat the condition as you would a physical condition.  If you were experiencing chest pains it's unlikely you would try to carry on as normal and not seek help.  The same should be true with your mental health.  If you are unwell or supporting someone who is unwell and not already working with a specialist team then the best person to speak to is your GP.  If it is outside of normal opening hours you can call your out of hours service or attend A & E.