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(artwork by Alynn Robi)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month with Schizophrenia Awareness Day falling on May 24. Nations all over the world have recognized mental health disorders as sincere illnesses requiring patience, respect, support, and understanding from their communities. I have had extended contact with several people who have been diagnosed with this disorder, and on the outside they seemed like any average passerby you could meet on the street. Until we tried to communicate rationally, that is.

They would sometimes; make irrational statements, had a disconnect from any “emotional responsibility” from things they stated, would require lots of reassurance that “no one was looking at them”, were sometimes overly sensitive to any changes in facial expressions and would occasionally repeat the same ideas/stories over and over in a short span of time.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines schizophrenia as:

A complex mental disorder which; makes it difficult to tell the difference between what is real and not real, think clearly, have normal emotional responses and act normally in social situations.

A little known fact about schizophrenia that many people do not realize in casual conversations:

Mental health experts are not sure what causes it.

There has been lots of speculation and dramatization of schizophrenics in Hollywood movies and television shows, depicting them as extreme violent characters, covered in filth with legions of audible voices in their heads ordering them to kill. Lapses in healthcare or medication schedules can cause some schizophrenics to go without care for long periods of time which often leads to misinformation and misunderstandings about those afflicted.

Here are five things to remember when encountering someone with schizophrenia:

  1. Schizophrenics look like everyone else. Schizophrenia can affect any nationality, race or gender at any stage of life. While often depicted as raging and crazed defendants or suspects on courtroom dramas, in reality, the range in symptoms and degrees within the spectrum of schizophrenia are much more subtle. Just like any other mental illness: self-medicating through alcohol and/or drug abuse will probably aggravate their symptoms.
  2. There is more than one way to a diagnosis . Some people develop symptoms through puberty, some in their late twenties and others even later. Depression, habitual drug abuse, inability to communicate rationally, paranoia/persecution complexes, withdrawing from social circles are all possible indicators of other serious mental illnesses or social issues as well as schizophrenia. If you are unsure of a person’s medical history do not casually “label” anyone: it could be detrimental to their overall health and general well-being.
  3. They can also be contributing members of society. When properly medicated with a strong support group, people with schizophrenia have been known to keep jobs, socialize amiably with peers and contribute financially to their families.
  4. It may take time to properly medicate their symptoms. Medicinal levels change over long periods of time; some people may build up a tolerance, develop new symptoms or react negatively to some medications. A positive prognosis depends upon the person’s; caregivers, medicinal treatment plans, and support systems.
  5. Schizophrenics deserve dignity too. Speaking with someone who has schizophrenia (for me) was like being on the outside of a mental tempest, as I was looking in for that lifeline of information to ground or center them. They could communicate for a while, but depending upon their mood, it wouldn’t take much for them to be off and into their own world again. If someone with schizophrenia trusts you with their diagnosis and it is too much for you to handle as a friend or life partner: be honest with them. They deserve the same opportunities, privileges, rights and support as anyone else.

(The information in this article is based on my personal experiences/relationships as well as from information obtained in links below. It is in no way the same as a professional’s diagnosis. As always consult a physician or doctor if you suspect you or your loved on is suffering or needs help with their illness.)

For more on Schizophrenia, organizations for Schizophrenia support and more please visit these links;

1. WebMd’s Schizophrenia Health Center- for more on the diagnosis, symptoms, treatments, etc.

2. U.S. National Library of Medicine (PubMedHealth) webpage- for more on schizophrenia, prognosis and information resource.

3. Schizophrenia Society of Ontario wonderful resource page based out of Ontario Canada.