For a variety of reasons, many individuals with schizophrenia don’t get satisfactory treatment until years after the onset of their mental illness, if at all. In some cases this may be a consequence of the fact that there are no definitive diagnostic tests, such as a simple blood test, for schizophrenia.
Diagnoses of most mental illnesses are made on the basis of the consumer’s symptoms and on this basis an accurate diagnosis may require years of testing different medications and careful observations. Some consumers (like me many years ago) suffer from anosognosia (they honestly don’t believe they are ill). Some are the victims of ignorance, both their own ignorance and that of those around them. Some consumers (and even family members) are in denial; some consumers can’t endure the side effects of the medications they require; and some unknowingly seek treatment from unqualified providers.
Comingled with all of the impediments cited above is the ever-present curse of stigma. All these phenomena represent impediments to acceptance by the consumer of his or her illness, which in most cases also delays efficacious treatment. It is my opinion that all delays in receiving effective treatment are deleterious.
Last week my blog touched on the potential impact of anosognosia. I described my own struggles with this side affect of schizophrenia and how my psychiatrist managed to circumvent its usual effects.
Ignorance concerning mental illness comes in various forms: passive, active and deliberate. All three of these forms are pervasive in the USA. This week I’m going to write about passive ignorance.
Passive ignorance in particular is rampart throughout the general public. This occurs among individuals who have had little or no contact with anyone that has a mental illness, or, as is more likely the case, no such contact of which they are aware. They are ignorant concerning the nature of mental illness, its etiology and treatment, and are not interested in talking about mental illness, let alone learning something about it.
Although the above individuals may live in a state of passive ignorance, they are not benign. They tend to perpetuate misinformation, as well as their own fear and intolerance of anyone with a mental illness. In other words, those living in a continuing state of passive ignorance are a continuing and highly destructive source of stigma.
[Many individuals that are passively ignorant sooner or later take action on the basis of their ignorance and thereby graduate to join the actively ignorant. They still have no interest in learning anything about mental illness or contributing toward its cure. They actively work to block the placement of treatment facilities or group homes in their neighborhoods, collecting signatures on petitions and lobbying local politicians.]
The only way to eliminate the above form of passive ignorance concerning mental illness, and to eradicate the stigma such ignorance generates, is to educate the general public. There are many programs employing a wide variety of approaches with this objective.
One of the most successful is NAMI’s In Our Own Voice Program, which has been scientifically evaluated and shown to make a significant difference in the attitudes of its audience members. If you have not seen an In Our Own Voice presentation, you should. If you are a consumer in recovery, you should also consider becoming a presenter in this program. Presenters perform a valuable public service with each presentation they make and experience a great deal of satisfaction, not only from the presentations themselves, but from the associations and friendships that develop between presenters (and some audience members as well).
Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.