Schizophrenia remains one of the most stigmatised and misunderstood mental illnesses, writes Anna Mac
Schizophrenia is a word that is thrown around a lot. Not many people know or understand what it actually is. I first encountered schizophrenia symptoms at the age of 17, when I was at a party with my then-boyfriend. I started crying and freaking out, because I didn’t recognise who he was. I blamed it on some sort of side effect from the anti-depressants I had recently been prescribed with. I didn’t have another episode until the night before my Leaving Cert results. I came home from a jog and collapsed on the couch, where I later woke up screaming hysterically and thrashing because I didn’t know where I was or who my parents were.
The symptoms didn’t become a regular thing until November 2015, when I spent a full month in a false reality, convinced I was in a mental hospital, my parents were doctors and my brother who was visiting me was out to get me – maybe even kill me. I went back to the psychiatrist and he gave me anti-psychotic medication, and diagnosed me with schizo-effective disorder, which is basically a mixture of schizophrenia and depression. Class.
The term “mental health” is a bracket wide and broad, covering all sorts of issues from depression and anorexia nervosa to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In today’s society, a lot of ground is being covered as best as we can in schools, the workplace and in social circles. Our awareness is at an all time peak. Yet, when someone mentions “mental health”, people automatically associate it with depression. As this is probably the most common mental illness, it is easy to understand that people immediately jump to the conclusion that a mental illness is somehow related or linked to depression. The amount of education that is being supplied with regards to depression and the process of it slowly being stripped of its stigma is very welcome; but what about other mental illnesses?
This evening I watched a programme on RTE called Schizophrenia: The Voices Inside Your Head. For the first time since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, it is the first programme, film, or any sort of media content that actually resonated with me. I have watched every film under the sun that deals with psychosis over the past two years, and nothing has ever hit home like this documentary did. I am sick and tired of people using phrases like “he’s a schizo” or calling a person “psychotic”, as if it’s the worst thing in the world – some sort of mutation.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness, and a horrible one at that, but is so damn stigmatised that I was terrified to write this article because I’m sure people will have an automatically biased opinion with regards to the illness without ever learning about it properly.
I don’t blame them. When I was diagnosed I cried and cried for days, and to be honest I still have days where I can’t believe I have this illness due to the reputation it has, how it’s portrayed in the media and the amount of work you have to do on yourself, with or without medication, to cope with it. There is a general consensus that schizophrenia is dual personality, hearing voices in your head or just downright insanity. For me, schizophrenia is not knowing what’s real and what’s not; having intrusive thoughts that, if I shared with anyone, would make them think I’m crazy; having bad concentration amongst other symptoms that all make every day a little bit harder than it should be. I take anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medication, but my aim is to be medication-free by this time next year. While the medication keeps me on the straight and narrow for the most part, it has serious side effects that I am sick of. I have put on a crazy amount of weight, my creativity and personality are suppressed to the extent that sometimes I wake up and feel nothing at all, and I can only function after I’ve had a hefty amount of sleep.
And yet, despite all of that, I’m still a functioning human. I have a full-time job and still do some creative bits here and there, but I really want to stress how important it is to educate yourself on different forms of mental health because I guarantee you know someone suffering with some sort of illness – not necessarily schizophrenia or depression, but everyone is fighting their own battles.
Watch documentaries, read, discuss with your peers, do whatever you can to find out more.
Mental health is sacred, make sure to love and respect you state of mind, whether it be fit or unwell. Either way, there’s no other mind quite like yours.
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