National Schizophrenia Awareness Day on 25 July 2021 brings attention to this much misunderstood condition. But exactly what is it?
One of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia is that it means having a split personality. But that is a completely different illness called dissociative identity disorder. People also mistakenly think schizophrenics are violent. But again this is not true, as schizophrenics are more likely to harm themselves than others.
Psychosis is an umbrella term for a number of conditions including schizophrenia. The word schizophrenia actually means split mind.
It is a long term medical condition where the main symptoms are:
The exact cause is unknown, but it could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Stressful events can be psychological triggers such as bereavement, losing a job, the end of a relationship, physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Drug use is linked to schizophrenia and there is also some research to show that people who have had complications at birth may be more susceptible.
It is a debilitating condition affecting 1 in 100 people. Worldwide it is ranked as one of the highest causes of disability. It is one of the most expensive illnesses through physical co-morbidities (related illnesses), social impairment, inability to work and hospital admissions.
Can Schizophrenia Be Treated?
The main treatment includes anti-psychotic drugs and cognitive behavioural therapy. Eight out of ten areas in the UK have an Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) team whose aim is to get people in treatment within two weeks. Early intervention is vital, as treatment outcomes are good when this is caught early on.
One in five people with schizophrenia recover completely with treatment. But others may have times when symptoms return and it is important to learn to recognise the signs and have support in place.
Living with Schizophrenia
Here Antonio speaks about his experience of living with schizophrenia
Three times as many men as women die by suicide and it is the biggest cause of death for men under 50. Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women but are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health concerns. Often they don’t even recognise them.
We live in a society that expects men to be strong and in control, making it difficult for men to reach out for support, instead turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Men are three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol or drugs.
It’s important that we have safe spaces where men can share their health concerns. In my own journey, a weekly men’s group was fundamental in helping me to turn my life around. I was an angry young man with physical and mental health problems. I was off sick from work and struggling with life. And like many men, anger was an emotion that was both familiar and something I found easy to access and express.
But what was behind the anger?
In my men’s group one day, the facilitator challenged me on my anger. He asked me to close my eyes and said that he would say things that would make me angry but that I should not react, just stay with the emotions. He began to speak and I found the anger building, my knuckles clenched and my jaw tightened. He continued and I began to shake. After a few minutes (and it may have been much less than that) I started to cry and it wasn’t just a few tears, it was uncontrollable as the years of sadness that I’d been hiding behind my anger came out.
This couldn’t have happened had there been women present for two good reasons. Number one, and the main reason, is that I wouldn’t have let my guard down in front of females. And number two is safety. The facilitator probably wouldn’t have tried this just in case I lashed out. So this is one example but there are many subjects that men need a safe space to talk in.
Reach out if you are worried about your mental health. Connect with friends and talk about your concerns. Don’t let it build up until it becomes unmanageable. There is help out there.
And if you are worried about someone else
Let them know you are there for them and keep in touch, listen without judgement.
Encourage them to get help from their GP or find a men’s group in your area
Good sleep is vital to good mental and physical health
Sleep is essential for maintaining good health. The odd sleepless night may affect your whole day, but consistently not getting enough sleep can have a serious impact on your mental health. It can affect your ability to concentrate and make good decisions. It can make you irritable and impatient. It can cause anxiety and depression and increase your chances of other mental health conditions. Conversely, having poor mental health can lead to problems with sleep. It can become a never ending cycle.
In my work as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, one of the main ways I’ve been able to help people is by helping them to sleep and to sleep properly.
What do I mean by sleep properly?
It’s not just how much sleep we get, but the quality of that sleep. Some of us need more sleep than others but generally most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day. It’s normal to wake in the night, maybe to go to the loo, but if you can’t get back to sleep quickly, then you may not get enough rest. The golden rule is that you should awake feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
Many people, however, fall asleep exhausted and wake up feeling tired. This means that they’re not nourished from their sleep and they may rely on coffee or other stimulants to get through the day. Others may find it hard to get to sleep in the first place because of worry. Then if they do sleep it may only be for a couple of hours and they wake unable to fall asleep again. Some complain of grinding teeth, dental problems, headaches and pain in their jaw when they wake.
So how can you improve the quality of your sleep?
With my clients, I often use movement synchronised with the breath, most likely in a supine position. I might combine this with long held (gentle) stretches. After this I may use relaxation techniques such PMR (progressive muscle relaxation), conscious breathing (pranayama) and restorative yoga postures, followed by a long savasana (yoga relaxation pose) where I will give a guided relaxation technique called yoga nidra (sleep of the yogis).
Many people have never experienced such deep relaxation and when they do they want more of it. It’s like they finally have permission to relax.
Try my yoga nidra for sleep. Do it for five consecutive days and see what difference it makes to your happiness, health and wellbeing.
The image that often comes to mind is of someone cutting themselves. But self harm can be any action that causes injury or pain to yourself. Over-eating, over-exercising, participating in unsafe activities, drinking too much are all just harmful to yourself as causing immediate physical injuries.
Many people think those that self harm are just attention seeking. If they were serious, they would attempt suicide, right? But in reality they will often do their best to keep their behaviour a secret. It is a coping strategy, a way of dealing with extremely difficult emotions and feeling some control over unmanageable emotions.
MHFA plenary speaker and self harm awareness trainer Satveer Nijjar discusses and explains more in this video.
The co-author of the report Louis Appleby, from the University of Manchester, commented: “An increase in the prevalence of using self harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long term implications. There is a risk that self harm will become normalised for young people, and individuals who start to self harm when young might adopt the behaviour as a long term coping strategy.”
Appleby warned, “Non-suicidal self harm may be associated with later suicide. As young people get older, reaching age groups that already have higher suicide rates, the self harm they have learned may become more serious and more likely to have a fatal outcome.”
Where to go for help
Self harm can be successfully treated when caught early and it’s important to get help as soon as possible.
Self Harm UK have launched a free online support group for 14-19 year olds called Alumina.
Young Minds are always an excellent resource for all mental health matters for younger people and they have some great pages around self harm. They also support parents of young people too.
The mental health charity Mind have useful contacts if self harm affects you or someone you know.If you’re in crisis contact The Samaritans on 116 123. In 2019, people discussed self-harm in calls with Samaritans once every two minutes.
In the Adult MHFA courses we learn about crisis first aid for self harm and positive coping strategies to help reduce stress.