If you listen to local radio, there is a chance you might hear me today, as I am heading for a marathon local radio session to talk about a new report on schizophrenia.
Rethink Mental Illness have commissioned a survey which has exposed the widespread belief in the continuing myths surrounding one of the most misunderstood illnesses in the country.
More than half of people believe schizophrenia means the sufferer ‘has a split personality.’ Not true. 49 per cent believe people with schizophrenia have the same physical health as everyone else – in truth their lifespan is likely to be much shorter. 42 per cent people it is an illness from which it is impossible to recover – many do. 26 per cent believe people with schizophrenia need to be ‘monitored at all times’ – many are actually able to hold down jobs. And 15 per cent believe people with schizophrenia ‘are dangerous.’
The work I do with the Time to Change campaign is all about changing attitudes and the survey shows how far we have to go before as a country we have proper understanding of mental illness. The problem with these particular myths is that they fuel stigma which leads to discrimination which can make things even worse for those already dealing with the consequences of a horrible illness.
The violence myth is largely created by the reporting of high profile cases involving mentally ill people who turn violent. I am not suggesting these incidents should not be reported. But the manner of the reporting tends to reinforce the link between the illness and the violence, and without any proper contextualisation. This myth is particularly toxic as the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Today’s report gives the media an opportunity to set some of the context, and explode some of the myths. Local radio, looking at the long list of interviews planned for today, seems willing to play its part. Let’s see if any of the national papers, so keen to present themselves right now as wholesome and healthy contributors to the national debate and the public interest, do so.