February 5, 2016
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterised by disturbances in a person’s thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviour. Usually described as a psychotic illness, schizophrenia can make it difficult to distinguish between what is real and unreal. People with schizophrenia may find it difficult to think clearly, manage emotions and relate to others. With successful treatment, schizophrenia can be effectively managed.
How common is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia affects 1 in every 100 people in Ireland. The first onset usually occurs in adolescence or early adulthood.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia has 'positive' and 'negative' symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations, delusions and disturbed thinking. Negative symptoms include withdrawal, reduced emotions, difficulty speaking and absence of expression.
How is schizophrenia diagnosed and treated?
Having one or two of the symptoms described above does not add up to a diagnosis of schizophrenia. A psychiatrist will usually diagnose schizophrenia when the individual has had severe disturbances of thinking patterns for at least 6 months, with experience of delusions or hallucinations. The earlier schizophrenia is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chances of recovery.
Schizophrenia and violence: Is there a link?
Research suggests that the commonly held view of the dangerously unbalanced, violent person with schizophrenia is a cliché with little basis in reality. The risk of violent behaviour among people with schizophrenia is only marginally greater than among the rest of the community and only then if someone is experiencing acute, untreated symptoms.
The sad truth is that a person with a mental health problem is 11 times more likely to be a victim of violence at the hands of someone else or through self-harm. A person's age, sex, social status and what’s going on in their life are much better predictors of future violence than a mental health problem.
Schizophrenia: Accurate reporting
Loose terminology makes it harder to challenge the stereotypes associated with schizophrenia (“psycho”, “maniac”,“schizo”).
Similarly, referring to someone as a ‘schizophrenic’, a ‘depressive’, an ‘anorexic’ etc. is dismissive and defines the person solely in terms of their illness. Instead, it's better to say 'a person with schizophrenia', 'a person with depression' etc.
How the media can help
Accurate representation of mental illness in the media can do a lot to challenge myths and break down stigma.
Media coverage about schizophrenia can result in people becoming worried and wanting more information about the disorder. Shine (Helpline 1890-621631, Monday – Friday 9am-4pm ) is the Irish national organisation that supports people affected by schizophrenia. By considering the above points when producing content and including the contact address and telephone number of Shine in the media, journalists can promote help-seeking and increase public understanding of schizophrenia.