Awareness week shines light on one of Australia’s most stigmatised communities

Posted 1 year ago by Nicole Pope

Schizophrenia can cause challenges with seeking employment, accessing housing and education, feelings of isolation and loneliness and a range of other health issues [Source: Shutterstock]
Schizophrenia can cause challenges with seeking employment, accessing housing and education, feelings of isolation and loneliness and a range of other health issues [Source: Shutterstock]

This week marks an important date in the calendar, with a specific focus on raising awareness for the needs of people with schizophrenia and psychosis.

National Schizophrenia Awareness Week runs from 20 May to 27 May, to coincide with World Schizophrenia Awareness Day on 24 May.

The mental health-focused week has run annually since 1986, when it was created by the then Schizophrenia Council of Australia, now Mental Health Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA)

Affecting one in 100 people worldwide, schizophrenia can cause challenges with seeking employment, accessing housing and education, feelings of isolation and loneliness and a range of other health issues.

Chief Executive Officer of MIFA, Tony Stevenson describes people with schizophrenia and psychosis as ‘among the most highly stigmatised and socially marginalised people in our community.’

Mr Stevenson says the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is playing an important role in helping people with schizophrenia receive the support they need on their road to recovery, however, accessing the scheme is not all smooth sailing.

“The NDIS has brought transformational change to some people with schizophrenia who have received a generous plan; however, many people with schizophrenia and psychosis experience difficulties navigating the complex access process and gathering evidence and some then struggle to navigate their plans and get the services they need.”

“There are also less services now available in the community for people who are not eligible for the NDIS,” he says.  

A range of events were held across Australia throughout the week including panels, research symposiums, barbeques, photo exhibitions and art competitions, information stalls, support and craft groups.

“These events provide an opportunity for the community to come along, meet people with a lived experience of schizophrenia and psychosis, join in the festivities or find support if they need it,” Mr Stevenson says.

MIFA is an alliance of community managed mental health providers, which originally grew out of ‘fellowships’ as well as consumer and carer groups around Australia for people with schizophrenia.

It was formerly known as the Schizophrenia Council of Australia.

“Our members deliver specialist services for individuals living with severe mental ill-health and their carers, friends and families, out of nearly 60 ‘front doors’ in metropolitan and regional areas, to over 20,000 people each year,” Mr Stevenson says.

He says 60 percent of the MIFA members workforce is comprised of people with a lived experience as a consumer or carer of someone with a severe mental health condition.

Ahead of Schizophrenia Awareness Week, One Door Mental Health Australia fought to change the damaging and misleading colloquial use of the words schizophrenia and schizophrenic, through a successful amendment to the dictionary last week.

Schizophrenia refers to a serious psychiatric illness including disturbances in thought, perception, behaviour and functioning.

However, the use of the term to mean multiple personalities is an incorrect representation of schizophrenia.  

Thankfully, this is now correctly defined in the dictionary to remove stigma towards the disease.

“What many people don’t know is that dictionaries record both the correct use and the figurative (often incorrect) use of language. Many dictionaries therefore include incorrect colloquial definitions of schizophrenic,” General Manager of Advocacy and Inclusion, Dr Ellen Marks says.

“We set ourselves a challenge to change how people use the words, starting with the dictionary definition.”

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