MENTAL HEALTH: THE DIARY OF A BROKEN MIND
written by: Steve Pearson
Schizophrenia. According to my rough and far from scientific straw poll of family and friends, as much as eighty percent of you when reading the word schizophrenia at some point have thought, or still think, split-personality. That's what it is isn't it? So ingrained is the notion of schizophrenia as split-personality, some of you may actually demand proof, that it isn't. Because, it isn't. Let's wait for those people to go away and seek out some scholarly article describing the real symptoms.
Dum de dum, de dum de dum. Lah de dah de dum de dah. Patience has never been a trait of mine: to hell with it, they can catch up.
Whereas Dissociative Identity Disorder is the medical condition that encompasses split-personality, schizophrenia is generally an illness of psychosis: or disconnection with reality. Contrary to all the other conditions covered so far in this series, schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that is universally recognised across the world. Yet, in spite of this acceptance, public misconceptions of the condition, largely brought about by TV and Hollywood, permeates all casual discussion of the condition. That isn't to say all movie depictions of Schizophrenia are bad. A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe as John Nash, the brilliant American mathematician who suffered with paranoid schizophrenia, was beautifully told and showed the personal horrors that can afflict the sufferer.
Schizophrenics will typically hear their own thoughts coming echoing back at them as voices in their heads or may hallucinate scenes that only exist in their minds. A sufferer will hear the voices as if from another person and perceive hallucinations as reality. They may hold conversations with their inner voices and may often seem agitated as the conversation progresses. These hallucinations and voices are as real to them as any conversation you may have had this morning, and anything you may have seen. Delusions are another potentiality terrifying symptom where a sufferer might feel there is a conspiracy against them and people and things are co-conspirators. The conspiracy tends to grow and become more incongruous to anyone capable of rational thought. Any of the above would qualify as a psychotic episode. It is this which makes up the disorder of Schizophrenia.
Most people's skewed appreciation of this misunderstood condition centres on the fear of violence. Whilst many Hollywood schizophrenia sufferers have violent tendencies, in real life the great majority of sufferers are much more likely to be a danger to themselves. People with schizophrenia are up to fifty times more likely to commit suicide with as many as forty percent having attempted suicide, according to some studies. It is of course true that a population subset of schizophrenics commit violence towards people and even commit murder but, it is also true that most often such incidents make news whilst other subsets such as young men in gangs, jealous spouses, etc. may not.
Schizophrenia is very treatable and most people who suffer the onset of this condition will usually recover to lead a normal life, with their disorder controlled and managed through careful living and antipsychotic medications, which are often eventually reduced to a very small dose. Relapses may happen from time to time but the same treatment regime that has worked well before will usually work just as well again.
We all give in to irrational fear sometimes, like when we step on an aeroplane with trepidation whilst happily driving to the shops, even though the drive to the shops is significantly more likely to prove fatal, statistically, than would flying in modern aircraft in modern skies. The reason our fears are so out of whack with what is really likely to hurt us is because virtually every airplane crash appears on the main news, sometimes staying in the headlines for days. Imagine if every single fatal road traffic accident in the entire nation, appeared on the national news, every day. Our news bulletins would be so full of car crashes that President Trump’s latest twitter ejeculate would barely raise a tweet in return, and Boris Johnson’s inane word stew would never amount to more than an amusing story at the annual lexicographers ball.
So it is with attacks by a schizophrenia sufferer. The attack fits so well with the Hollywood narrative of a violent schizophrenic that they are plastered all over news and media, sometimes for days, which then sits in the mind of the viewer like a virus, to be sprung whenever they come across some poor soul in the midst of a psychotic episode and in need of the kindness of strangers. I understand the statistics of plane travel so I love flying and I know that a schizophrenic is likely to need my help should a situation arise. Can I trust you to think the same? I'm certain I can.