Schizophrenia – Dispelling myths about mental illness
The word, standing alone like that, produces a variety of reactions from many of us.
Insanity. Multiple personalities. Violence. The list goes on.
But how many of us know the details and realities about this form of mental illness — its symptoms, how it affects people who have it, what treatments are available.
In the Portsmouth Herald Sunday Accent section, they present a package of first-person stories by a local family, discussing both what it is like to have the illness and to live with a loved one who has schizophrenia.
It is a giant public leap of faith for the Perry family of South Berwick. Tired of living in the shadows of fear that their “secret” might get out, the family has decided to let the chips fall where they will. People will now either accept them as they are — or not.
Herb Perry is a colleague of theirs, a copy editor in their editorial department. Until recently, not many of them knew of his illness. He and his family hope that by presenting their stories, his co-workers and the public will come to understand more about schizophrenia and perhaps others with similar illnesses will be helped.
This bold step is happening more and more as people with mental illness talk openly about their struggle to control their lives, and we applaud their courage. We will present their story in three parts.
Kitty Dukakis, the former first lady of Massachusetts, has just published a new book, “Shock” (with journalist Larry Tye), in which she discusses in detail her battles with severe depression and how treatments of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) have saved her life.
These voices help broaden a public discussion that is long overdue in this country — and that is the recognition that we are all touched by mental illness, if not ourselves, then through a loved one, family member, friend, schoolmate or colleague.
More than 26 percent of the American public 18 or older — that’s one in every four people — have a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, such as depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.
Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness, according to NIMH.
In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada for ages 15 to 44. Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for two or more disorders, according to NIMH.
Despite the story these numbers tell, many people with mental illness still feel the stigma caused by the fraudulent premise that a mental illness is “different” and somehow more shameful than a physical illness.
The situation should not be that having cancer or diabetes is somehow more “acceptable” in polite society than having schizophrenia, depression or a bipolar disorder. One part of the problem is that we all want to be “normal” — whatever that is — and another part is the innate fear of the unknown.
This perception is one aspect of why so many people with mental illness never seek treatment — they are ashamed to admit to themselves and others that they need help. “Suck it up” seems to be the motto.
The result of this stigma is that mental health services are severely underfunded and those in need often have few treatment options.
We hope as we report we can serve as a catalyst for conversation in our readers’ homes and work places. We hope stories to be published each time we receive it from the Portsmouth Herald’s Health & Science section will serve as a guide, so that we can all look at mental illness, and those who suffer with it, in a new light.
Reviewed by Lindsay May 2010