Did you know that the average life expectancy of someone living in Australia with schizophrenia is just 54? With approximately 200,000 Australians now living with this condition, the need for awareness is vital.
Thankfully, ahead of this year’s World Schizophrenia Awareness Day (May 24), One Door Mental Health were able to highlight the reality of schizophrenia and correct what it actually means for the thousands suffering.
In its correct clinical definition, schizophrenia refers to a serious psychiatric illness which may include disturbances in thought, perception, behaviour and functioning in everyday life. The figurative use of the term schizophrenia and schizophrenic to mean multiple personalities or many and/or contrary points of view, is an incorrect representation of the illness and an emotionally damaging use of the word for those who live with the illness, their families and carers as it further stigmatises the disease.
“What many people don’t know is that dictionaries record both the correct use and the figurative (often incorrect) use of language”, says Dr Ellen Marks, General Manager of Advocacy and Inclusion, One Door Mental Health. “Many dictionaries therefore include incorrect colloquial definitions of ‘schizophrenic’. We know firsthand how damaging it is for people living with the illness to hear people in media, their communities and families misuse the word schizophrenic, for it implies a completely different set of experiences to one living with the illness.”
In response to One Door’s work, the Macquarie Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary and Wiktionary have included a “usage note” which underlines that the colloquial uses of ‘schizophrenic’ raises concerns for those who are trying to increase community knowledge of the medical condition of schizophrenia. “Language can aid healing. An enormous amount of attention is given to health literacy as a means of improving people’s health outcomes. The positive effects of engaging with language are obvious and well-known. On the other hand, the devastatingly stigmatising effects of incorrect language can also prevent healing,” Dr Marks adds.
World Schizophrenia Awareness Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.