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Saturday 29 April 2017
Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
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Stand Up for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia

It’s Schizophrenia Awareness Week from November 11 - 17.

Rethink Mental Illness are leading this year's national campaign to raise awareness about this much misunderstood illness and to tackle the stigma surrounding schizophrenia.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including:

  • hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that do not exist

  • delusions - unusual beliefs not based on reality which often contradict the evidence

  • muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions

  • changes in behaviour.

 

Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.

Who is affected?

Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. About 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia in their lifetime, with many continuing to lead normal lives.

Schizophrenia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35. Men and women are equally affected.

There is no single test for schizophrenia. It is most often diagnosed after an assessment by a mental health care professional, such as a psychiatrist.

It is important that schizophrenia is diagnosed as early as possible, as the chances of recovery improve the earlier it is treated.

A personal story..

Stuart was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 31.

After a difficult period of coping with depression, anxiety and paranoia, Stuart feels his illness is under control, thanks to a very effective antipsychotic drug. His goal is to climb Mount Everest, having already conquered base camp.

"In August 1991, I was on holiday in Moscow taking part in a march against communism. It was a very stressful time as hardline communists were attempting a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union.

"That night, in my hotel room, I got a phone call at about 2am. A very angry Russian man was shouting and swearing down the line at me, asking why I was involving myself in their business. I put the phone down and my heart started to pound. I began to get quite scared and paranoid.

"About eight days later, I arrived back in London. I felt I was being followed by the KGB. From there, fears of persecution and depression gradually built up. I got so stressed. About a month after returning from Moscow, I was unable to work and my doctor signed me off.

"I remember having my first psychotic attack, which was absolutely terrifying. I think it was brought on by sheer stress and anxiety. I was lying on my bed and I suddenly felt pressure on the top of my head, and found myself in total darkness. It was like I’d been sucked into my own mind and had lost all sense of reality. I screamed out loud, then suddenly found myself back in my bedroom again with this really strange sensation round my head.

"I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I decided to move away from London to Devon, to try to escape persecution from the KGB. I thought nobody would find me there.

"In 1996, I moved to Dorchester. I saw my local GP and was referred immediately to the psychiatric team, where I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The diagnosis was a relief. Yet all I knew about schizophrenia was what I’d read in the papers, that it was related to violence.

"I did some research and got in touch with the mental health charity Rethink. I met one of Rethink's volunteers, Paul. He is the kindest man I’ve ever met in my life. I could tell Paul my deepest thoughts and fears and completely trust him. He never judged me at all.

"After doctors gave me various medicines, some with unpleasant side effects, I was prescribed a drug that worked for me. It was one of the newer, atypical antipsychotics. I’m now on an extremely low dose of this drug and I don’t really have any symptoms of schizophrenia anymore. I feel it’s completely under control.

"In 2003, I won a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travel fellowship. I went to Everest for the first time and trekked to base camp. It was symbolic of my own journey with schizophrenia and conquering my own mountains. I want to climb Everest in the future. I think I can do it. I want to do something to inspire people and to show people that recovery is possible."

Delusions and voices have been a daily feature of Richard’s life for more than ten years. Despite this, he recently completed a master's degree in broadcast journalism and successfully runs his own business.

"When I was about 21, I had a bad experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms, after which I started having delusions and hallucinations. Voices in my head would say unkind things and I had suspicious thoughts that felt like they came from outside me. I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia shortly afterwards and the thoughts and voices have been with me ever since.

"A lot of the time the thoughts and voices are like another layer of interaction with people and the world. It's as if there are two coexisting realities. If I'm listening to the radio, for instance, the rational part of me knows that the programme is being transmitted to lots of listeners and that it is a one-way form of communication. My delusional thinking, however, makes me believe that the radio can project what I say out loud to the people making the show and all the listeners.

"My delusions will also make me think that a lot of the discussion in the programme has a special meaning or relevance to me. For example, the host of a show might mention that they are going to the dentist soon. If I happen to have a dental appointment in the near future, then it can seem like the presenter has just dropped that into the conversation as a hidden message. They aren’t going to the dentist, but they want me to understand that they know I will be.

"In truth, when something like that happens it is, of course, just a coincidence, but there's a part of my thinking for which it becomes another reality.

"I've come to accept that they are an ongoing part of my life, but there are times when it is hard to deal with. Out shopping, it sometimes seems people are looking at me in a sinister way because they don’t like something about me. The truth is they're probably noticing my clothes or are just looking in my direction.

"Nonetheless it can get me down, to the point where I won’t go out of the house. In the past it has made me feel depressed, even suicidal. At times like that, it helps to have friends around who can either tell me to stop thinking rubbish or, if needs be, help me work through my delusions and do some reality checking.

"I had some cognitive behavioural therapy when I first got these symptoms. It was helpful because it gave me another way to work through negative emotions and keep on top of things that could be disabling. I also take medication and have decided that I always will.

"The media consultancy company I've just set up keeps me busy. That’s important too, because when I have lots of work on, it helps me keep focused, rather than drift off with my delusions."

How can you get involved?

Join in with Schizophrenia Awareness Week from 11 - 17 November by following Rethink Mental Illness on Twitter or liking them on Facebook. This will help to raise awareness about the themed week by sharing your support and challenging stigma with your friends and family. You can also fundraise for the charity!

Rethink Mental Illness are also asking that you make a pledge to say "Yes, I Will Stand Up For Schizophrenia!"