It is important to remember that people suffering from a schizophrenic episode are at greater risk of harm from the community than the community is at risk of harm from them. And we shouldn’t fear people with mental illness.
DR BOB SERICH (Chair, National Mental Health and Homelessness Advisory Committee): Schizophrenia is an illness. It’s a psychotic mental illness. It affects approximately one per cent of the population. It starts early in life. It quite often has a chronic downhill course.
PROFESSOR GORDON PARKER (Executive Director at The Black Dog Institute): They more feel cut off from the world, because somebody has persecuted them somebody has poisoned their food or very commonly there’s a voice or series of voices that are going on in their head all day long, all night long, or just intermittently saying dreadful things to them. That they’re being poisoned, they deserve to be poisoned or so on and so forth. They can’t feel that they can relate to any other human being so they feel socially isolated, alienated and in a world that is out to get them.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ (President, NSW State Advisory Committee on Mental Health): One of the things about schizophrenia is that people might have a difficulty determining what’s real and what’s not real because they can hear voices. They call them auditory hallucinations, another term for it. But it’s pretty horrible. They hear voices and it sounds as if someone is actually speaking to them. I’ve had someone in the backyard with me yelling and screaming at the voices and saying “can’t you hear that women? She is putting me down, she tormenting me”.
PETER SCHAECKEN (Consumer consultant, Sydney South West Area, Mental Health Service, Eastern Zone): My last episode last year I did have a lot of voices. At the time I wasn’t sure whether they were ……. it was actually people I knew were talking to me and it seemed like it was telepathic. But because I was in hospital I couldn’t verify whether these people were talking to me telepathically or that this was voices, so I was unsure whether this was true or untrue.
DR SERICH: They have sort of beliefs that people may be sort of controlling them, looking at them, strange somatic perceptions that they are being interfered with, or some beam is being shun into their brain from somewhere.
PETER SCHAECKEN: The visual hallucinations, while they weren’t frightening basically what I was seeing was flashes of light and I’d see different colours. This only happened to me after I hurt my neck. I was told by the chiropractor that could cause hallucinations if you had a neck injury. And it was after I hurt my neck and then I had a psychotic episode after it did get these, just a straight line just like a rainbow. And I would see that. I would recognise that I was the only one who could see this, but depending on what colour it was would be interpreted by myself as what I’d have to do about it. If it was a certain colour it either cause fear or panic in me. Suddenly getting an illusion where all of a sudden you think you’re the Queen Mary, or you’re God, or you’re the son of God. It just starts to happen slowly. There’s a variety of reasons why that can happen. Stress can sometimes bring on an episode of mental illness.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: The most commonly form of drug induced psychosis would be schizophrenia that has been triggered by marijuana use.
PETER SCHAECKEN: Subtle symptoms could be ideas of reference. What’s known as ideas of reference; when you think the TV or radio has a special message for you. With psychosis it is so personal, that watching the TV you think the TV is actually, the special program just for you. It really alters your perception of the way the world operates.
DR SERICH: Schizophrenia is not about split personality, but what actually is split is the functions internally. The ability to sort of think and to perceive things.
PETER SCHAECKEN: Supposedly one of the theories about a psychotic illness is that it’s a chemical imbalance of chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopermein and that’s what causes what’s known as the positive symptoms, the hallucinations, the voices, the ideas of reference, delusions, paranoia.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: It’s very difficult, schizophrenia is probably the most destructive disease there is. Its wrecks them, it develops in their early adulthood just when their forming relationships, getting into jobs, starting a career, studying and it wrecks the whole lot.
PETER SCHAECKEN: A psychotic illness can be very terrifying for people. People are very scared and for most people with mental illness they are at greater risk of harm from the community than the community is harm from them. And we shouldn’t fear people with mental illness.
DR SERICH: Twenty-five per cent of people may have one episode and never have another episode. Over 50 per cent have recurrent episodes and the 25 per cent have a chronic downhill course.
PETER SCHAECKEN: Back 30 years ago the general feeling even from within the mental health profession was that people with schizophrenia did not recover. We now know that’s not true. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia will make a recovery, some people will make a full recovery, other people will make a partial recovery.
DR BOB SERICH: One per cent of the population, one in a hundred, suffer from schizophrenia.
PETER SCHAECKEN: I think for any person whether they’ve got mental illness or not, having those solid relationships or friendship with people are integral to your own metal health and wellbeing.