What is schizophrenia? | World Schizophrenia Day

Today is Schizophrenia Awareness Day, a day dedicated to educating and reducing the stigma surrounding schizophrenia. There are still many misconceptions about schizophrenia, thus an increase in education surrounding this mental illness is required to better help those dealing with this issue, day in day out. We’ve spoken to The Better Health Generation’s Psychologist, Monique Meredith, to help shed light on this disease.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a diagnosis and lived experience that is not well understood. It is a constellation of internal and external experiences that a person identifies as having.

What symptoms are associated with this presentation?

Positive symptoms can be understood as the addition of experiences that they didn’t have previously, for example;

• Hallucinations
• Delusions
• Confused or disorganised thoughts

Negative symptoms are something that is removed, such as;

• Lack of pleasure (anhedonia)
• Difficulty with speech (algolia)
• Flat or blunted affect
• Difficulties with functional capacity

How can allied health consultants (psychologists) support clients with this presentation?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that this is a person whose experience is very real to them, and the reality of their situation can be exceptionally frightening for them. Acknowledging that this is the case can be a great start and then adopting a compassionate and thoughtful stance.

Do you have any advice for allied health consultants to support clients with this presentation?

Adopting a recovery-oriented and person-centred perspective is a great place to start. If this is a new phrase to you, I encourage you to research what it means, and ask the person; “What is recovery to you”. Recovery is not always symptom reduction; it may be navigating a pathway through the world with the symptoms still present, that enable the person to live a life that they wish to live.

Are there any misconceptions surrounding schizophrenia? If so, what are these?

There are so many misconceptions around this issue. As a professional who has spent over a decade working with people living with schizophrenia in clinical and non-clinical roles, the amount of stigma and discrimination that exists is huge. For example, a common misconception is that all “people with schizophrenia are dangerous, violent and unpredictable”. For the most part, a person living with schizophrenia is likely to in fact withdraw. The world is a frightening place that, when experiencing symptoms, they may struggle to understand and can be highly vulnerable to exploitation.

Often these attitudes towards a person with schizophrenia are so deeply internalised, a person may not be aware that their behaviour changes. When interacting with someone with schizophrenia, a person’s body language may become closed, they may be more alert or on edge and their thoughts may be drawn to internal representations seen in the media of “schizophrenics”.