Educating Your Neighbors

Not much will change unless the general public learns more about schizophrenia and mental illnesses. Neither the news media nor the entertainment industry can be relied upon to educate the public about psychiatric disorders. That leaves the task to schools, government, and private organizations. Unfortunately, it is not a priority for schools. Government agencies such as the National Institute of Mental Health provide good information for those who seek it out, but its clients are usually people who are directly affected by mental illness, not members of the general public. That leaves advocates and potential advocates to do the job.

Knowledge Gap

A NAMI survey indicated that the number of U.S. citizens living with schizophrenia is double the number of Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Despite this, the survey indicates that most people don't know much about the mental illness that afflicts millions of their peers. The same poll indicated that nearly half of the respondents were uneasy about the idea of dating someone with a history of schizophrenia.

Fact

Mental disease is still a hidden fact of everyday life for millions of people. The surgeon general's 1999 report on mental health indicated that more than one in five people in the United States have a “diagnosable” mental disorder. Only one-third of these people seek or receive treatment.

After the survey's release, NAMI expressed concern regarding the potential negative impact of Americans' lack of knowledge about and suspicion toward schizophrenia.

Advantages of a Knowledgeable Public

The earlier psychotic symptoms are detected and treated, the better the outcome can be for the patient. While family members are often in the best position to spot developing trouble, there are many others, including teachers, coaches, school officials, friends, and acquaintances, who may also be close enough to detect emerging signs of illness. It is important that these people know the basic signs of mental illness.

The less people know about something, the more likely they are to fear it. Increased public awareness can reduce the stigma surrounding schizophrenia. It educates more people in the community, who may then be able to notice signs of trouble and help those who have undiagnosed schizophrenia seek treatment sooner. It can remove the shame that many people wrongly associate with mental illness. This sense of shame often keeps individuals from seeking help, but greater public understanding and acceptance of schizophrenia can encourage people to seek treatment. You can help further the spread of information by educating anyone who comes into frequent contact with young people. Sponsor meetings and informal gatherings to spread information about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

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