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Schizophrenia Stigma

It's 3:00 a.m. and I can't sleep. I'm sitting in the commons area of an eerily quiet psychiatric hospitalization unit while I recover from a relatively severe psychotic break. I wasn't going to blog this week because, well, the obvious. On top of that, all I have is pen and paper, no Internet access. But my wife still managed to post this week despite taking me to the hospital and picking up the slack in my absence. It is good to emulate one's heroes and I can think of no greater hero than my wife. I just wish I were a little more like her. But I have to remember that psychiatric hospitalization does not denote weakness.
I was not surprised by my schizophrenia diagnosis. I realized that I was likely suffering from psychosis six weeks prior to my schizophrenia diagnosis when the symptoms of a patient alerted me to the nature of my own illness. I engaged in a bit of quick research on the subject and inadvertently ensnared myself in a psychotic delusion: I could not tell anyone that I was suffering from psychosis. In my mind, my employer and the government were closely monitoring my Internet history and would determine that I was a fraud. That was the first time I felt like a fraud. It wouldn't be the last.
Defining myself outside of mental illness is something I must do. Dealing with my schizoaffective disorder and generalized anxiety disorder can be a full-time job, but I am more than my mental illness symptoms. It's difficult to define myself outside of mental illness sometimes. Anxiety makes bathing difficult, cooking impossible (luckily, my husband Tom cooks for us), and I’m even afraid to go out in the rain. Through all of this, I try to weave other things into my life that define who I am beyond mental illness.
Ever since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder, mental health advocacy has become a very important cause for me. One of the ways I advocate for people with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder is by participating in the annual National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) walk in Chicago, a beautiful lakefront trek in the company of thousands of people.
Schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder doesn't have to stop you from having a business. Schizophrenic.NYC. founder Michelle Hammer, a native New Yorker, chatted with me about her business and how it helps homeless people with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder in New York City.
As someone with bipolar disorder—and, really, as someone with a mental illness in general—Carrie Fisher meant a lot to me and other people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder (Carrie Fisher and Manic Depression). I think I speak for many of us in the schizophrenic and schizoaffective community when I say she will be missed—an understatement to say the least. Here is what Carrie Fisher meant to me as a person with schizoaffective disorder.
Telling others about your schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia can be tricky, often because of the stigma surrounding these illnesses (Telling Someone You Have a Mental Illness). Other people may have incorrect preconceived notions about these illnesses, such as the myth that a person with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder is violent. Here’s how I approach telling other people about my schizoaffective disorder.
It’s hard enough having schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder but the stigma against schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia is something else to fight. Some people have unfriended me on Facebook because I tell them I have schizoaffective disorder. I didn’t do or say anything “crazy.” Just my open admission that I have the disorder was enough. That’s just one example of what happens when someone is uninformed and clings to stereotypes about what I am like--what anyone is like—who has schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
People so often assume that those of us with mental illnesses like schizoaffective disorder (SZD) or schizophrenia are violent. The fact is that people with a mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator (Appleby, et al., 2001). In the wake of the horrific Orlando shooting, once again mental illness is blamed as a cause for the attack. And, once again, stigma regarding violence among those with mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, is reinforced.
Antipsychiatry stigma can affect people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. And having schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder is hard enough without having people tell you that you shouldn’t be taking your medications. Antipsychiatry and stigma is rampant and dangerous not to mention it's rude to question one's choice of treatment for an illness. Unfortunately, antipsychiatry is a stigma that everyone with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other mental illnesses runs into at some point.