CAMPAIGN: Health chiefs in Kent want to help end misunderstanding about schizophrenia
HEALTH CHIEFS in Thanet, Kent have launched an awareness campaign to highlight the issue of schizophrenia.
The initiative was launched on World Mental Health Day last week, an event that aims to draw attention to mental health issues around the world. The theme of this year’s event was ‘living with schizophrenia’.
NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is encouraging people to find out more about the disease which it says is often misunderstood by many.
In Thanet, there are more than 1,300 people registered as having mental illnesses – including schizophrenia.
NHS CCG clinical lead for mental health, Dr Andy Walton, said: “Schizophrenia is shrouded in myth and misunderstanding, with many people believing that those with the disease are violent. Those with schizophrenia have to face much adversity, and their condition needs to be viewed with compassion and understanding. In Thanet, we have a rate of schizophrenia that is higher than the England average – particularly in the deprived wards.”
Dr Walton added: “Sadly, people with schizophrenia experience poor physical health too. This can make them more vulnerable to developing long-term conditions and drastically reduce their life expectancy. On average, a person with schizophrenia loses 10 years of life. NHS Thanet CCG is dedicated to tackling mental illness and the impact it has on sufferers and their families. The more we can understand illnesses such as schizophrenia, the more we can remove the burden of stigma.”
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations and changes in behaviour. It is often described as a ‘psychotic’ illness because a person with the disease may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
It is reported that African Caribbean men in the UK are much more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia in comparison to white people.
Experts and health campaigners have also expressed concern about the high rates of black people inside Britain’s psychiatric system.
Research from the Care Quality Commission has found that more black people than average are detained under the Mental Health Act and that they are more likely to have been sent there by a judge or police officer, rather than their GP.
Despite research over the years, the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown. However, there is strong evidence pointing to a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors contributing to the condition developing with incidence of the illness strongly linked to deprivation.
A study published in 2000 by the Institute of Psychiatry has found that poor social conditions are causing black people to develop the symptoms of mental illness.
Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry investigated whether black people were somehow genetically more prone to schizophrenia.
The answer was no - they found rates among black people in the Caribbean were identical to the white population to the UK.
They also searched for some other biological reason, such as brain damage at birth, head injury or drug abuse.
But when they compared the backgrounds of black patients they were actually less likely to have suffered this kind of injury than white patients and were no more likely to be drug users.
In fact, although 75 per cent of white patients with schizophrenia had some biological reason for their illness, in black patients it was only 25 per cent.
Brain scans revealed that white patients were three times more likely to have something obviously wrong with their brain than black patients.
The researchers came to the conclusion that it was possible that the psychiatric profession may sometimes be misinterpreting the behaviour of black patients who are not mentally ill, but struggling to cope with social adversity.
Professor Robin Murray, from the Institute of Psychiatry, said: “It seems to be something in the social environment, something about being black in Britain. The experience of black people in the UK almost drives them mad.”
Black mental health campaigners have claimed that the diagnosis of schizophrenia was developed from a white, European tradition of psychiatry and that little effort has been made among mental health professionals to find out whether this diagnosis is as valid in the African Caribbean community as it is in the white community.