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Community News
Misunderstanding Defines Most Americans' View of Schizophrenia
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 16 page 11-23

Schizophrenia is an oft-misunderstood disorder that remains shrouded in mystery, according to the results of a poll released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in June.

The survey, titled "Schizophrenia: Public Attitudes, Personal Needs: Views From People Living With Schizophrenia, Caregivers, and the General Public," examined attitudes about the disorder from the perspectives of those who have firsthand knowledge of the illness as well as the general public.

NAMI contracted with Harris Interactive to conduct the poll in February among 258 people living with schizophrenia and 250 caregivers selected from a group of about 9,000 people who are registered with NAMI's Web site. The 508 respondents agreed via e-mail to complete the survey.

Representatives from Harris Interactive also polled approximately 1,000 members of the public in February. Those surveyed agreed to be on Harris's online research panel, a database of several million people who have agreed to participate in online research projects on a number of topics.FIG1

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According to the results, there are some prominent misconceptions about the nature of schizophrenia among the public: for instance, 64 percent of those polled believed that "split or multiple personalities" are a symptom of schizophrenia. However, symptoms such as drug or alcohol abuse, insomnia, or disorganized speech were not widely recognized.

About 60 percent of those polled also believed that violent behavior is a symptom of schizophrenia.

For the most part, people polled understood that schizophrenia is a medical illness (85 percent) and that with treatment, people who have schizophrenia can lead independent lives (79 percent).

"[Americans] know schizophrenia is a medical illness affecting the brain, but it is largely misunderstood," said NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick in a press release announcing the results. "There are gaps in knowledge and access to treatment."

In addition, less than half of those polled (46 percent) replied that they would tell a friend if they had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Some findings on attitudes hinged on whether the person with schizophrenia was receiving treatment.

For instance, 77 percent of those surveyed reported being uncomfortable working with a person with schizophrenia who has not received treatment compared with 24 percent who would feel uncomfortable if the person with schizophrenia was receiving treatment.

Slightly more than 70 percent of those surveyed would be afraid for their own safety around a person who has not received treatment for schizophrenia, and 21 percent would be afraid for their own safety around a person who had been treated for the disorder, according to the results.

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The survey also characterized certain aspects of the lives of those living with schizophrenia—among consumers polled, there was an average of 8.5 years between experiencing the first symptoms of schizophrenia and being diagnosed with schizophrenia.

According to the results, lack of services was a critical problem. Only 29 percent of those surveyed reported receiving vocational rehabilitation, 20 percent received job-placement assistance, and 17 percent were provided with public housing.

More than a third (39 percent) of people with schizophrenia said that their diagnosis made it more difficult to access health care for medical problems. The majority reported that crisis care (92 percent), hospital beds (83 percent), assertive community treatment (77 percent), and care managers (76 percent) were helpful services.

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Caregivers responding to questions about people with schizophrenia were most often parents of the affected individuals (68 percent). Siblings comprised 12 percent of caregivers, and spouses or significant others 7 percent.

Almost half of caregivers surveyed (41 percent) reported providing care to an individual with schizophrenia for more than 10 years. The vast majority (90 percent) worry about what will happen to the individual when they die.

Recommendations from the report authors, who include psychiatrists and mental health advocates, include earlier and more widespread recognition of schizophrenia symptoms, training of primary care health professionals about schizophrenia symptoms and treatment, and continued research of new treatments for the disorder.

The report, "Schizophrenia: Public Attitudes, Personal Needs," is posted at<www.NAMI.org/schizophreniasurvey>.

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