Our Readers' Lives with Schizophrenia

Chapter 5. The Stigma of Schizophrenia


Updated: Jan. 11, 2001

Matthias:
I had my first psychosis at 21, and I just applied for an important job at the student club. Everybody heard about my problems and later on, I had no chance of getting the job because they probably knew of my psychosis.

Reba, mother of Eric:
My son and I not only have to deal with his mental illness but also the prejudice and social stigma that goes along with misunderstandings and misconceptions. At times when he discontinues his medicine and wanders aimlessly from city to city, he appears to be a nasty, homeless bum suffering from malnutrition and psychosis. I only wish people would be more compassionate, understanding and helpful to someone in need. However, it's just the opposite. If more people would lend a helping hand in some small way and quit ignoring those who are less fortunate by thinking they are just "bums" or worthless creatures with no productive life, then maybe our attitudes could change. Just ignoring these issues is not going to make our social problems go away. Quite the contrary -- unless something is done beginning with each individual's attitude and awareness, our streets will become even more filled with sickness and affliction. Social stigma affects everyone and is very hurtful to those of us who have family members who are mentally ill. There is a lot of stigma dealing with family members who are not understanding and live in denial that another family member is mentally ill. I have witnessed examples of social stigma for years dealing with my son's illness. No one wants to talk about it -- it's like a plague or something! The more knowledge that is learned, the more one understands. I wish that more people would take time to learn about mental illnesses rather than fear these illnesses.

Algaz:
[Jan. 25, 2000]
I have experienced both negative and positive reactions since my diagnosis, just 9 months ago. I have come to the conclusion that before you can gain acceptance from others, you must first accept your illness yourself. When I was first diagnosed, I thought the illness was a sign of my own weakness and I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. It has only been through many hours of discussion with my psychiatrist that I have come to realize that schizophrenia is a condition that is beyond my control and that I am not to blame.

I have lost quite a few friends due to the stigma related to schizophrenia and I have at times had people staring and whispering due to their fear and misunderstanding of mental illness. I have also lost friendships due to the fact that I have had to change my lifestyle considerably since becoming ill. I am no longer able to stay out all night partying and drinking as these habits tend to aggravate my illness and cause the return of some of my symptoms.

On the other hand I have a small group of friends who have stuck by me and supported me and learnt not to fear my illness. This I believe has helped me cope with my illness and get on with my life.

Since my diagnosis my life has certainly changed but even though my life is different it is not necessarily bad. Once I had accepted my illness and been realistic about lifestyle changes and gotten over the stigma in my own mind of having a mental illness I was able to show people that life does go on despite mental illness.

Becky:
[Aug. 13, 2000]
After 12 years of hell while I was in school, I was recently diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I had tried to commit suicide Wednesday and ended up in the hospital. They first diagnosed it as a psychosis. Then just 10 days ago August 3, 2000, I was labeled as Paranoid Schizophrenia. Thank god that my parents are sticking by me. Why me? I'm only 20.

Laura:
[Oct. 19, 2000]
My son was only 10 when he was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. Many people wanted nothing to do with us. It was like they were afraid that they could catch it too. Even the schools treated my son badly. They would just assume he was a bad child before they even got to know him.

Gale:
[Dec. 30, 2000]
I was first diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder in 1990. In 1992 I had it so bad for the entire year, I lost most of my friends in a 12-step program. My non-12-step friends were there for me. I guess I found out who my friends were and I had 3. It was a surprise to me because none of them were from the 12-step program that I had spent many hours at.

My sisters did not play a big part this year as one was in Hamilton and the other I was not close to when I was well. My brother was very empathetic and my sister-in-law wrote me letters which I depended on---I took them to the hospital with me. I was totally out of this year and I was taken to another town's hospital for a month and I got better in early '93. In '95 it came back in spades. This time I lost a fiance and more friends. I was very lonely. My one sister was good about coming over but would tell me she and her girlfriend were going out and I was hurt I wasn't invited but I knew it was because she didn't feel comfortable with me at this time. I snapped out of it again until the fall of '97 and I was once again out of it again for the year. I again fell ill in the year 2000. My biggest obstacle, besides losing friends every time I get sick, is when I do get my symptom I have an uncontrollable desire to walk and I scream or cry when I walk and I realize it is selfish to put this on other people but I can't seem to control it. Today I saw another man walk by the library doing the same thing.

The time I was well I got my real estate license and started my business up three times. I couldn't do it again. For one, my reputation is ruined and for another, I don't have it in me.

I also volunteered and was an advocate for rights for people with Schizophrenia.

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