Aussies don’t understand schizophrenia

woman leans on brick wall

Four in 10 Australians have little or no understanding of what schizophrenia is – yet almost a quarter of Australians know somebody with the illness, a new survey has found.

The survey, commissioned by Janssen-Cilag in partnership with the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, was released ahead of Schizophrenia Awareness Week (May 17 – 24).

It was commissioned to raise awareness of the stigma surrounding schizophrenia, and to highlight  the need for support resources for those caring for someone with schizophrenia.

The new survey of 1,000 Australians, including 54 carers, shows that:

four in 10 survey respondents have no or limited understanding of what schizophrenia is – yet almost one in four know someone with the illness;

over three-quarters of survey respondents would not tell their employer about a schizophrenia diagnosis, with half fearing people would judge them; and

almost half of carers surveyed have lost friendships, had relationships break down or experienced issues with family due to being a carer of someone with schizophrenia.

The survey results support the conclusions of the National Review of Mental Health which found a need for better understanding of the issues facing people with mental health, their families and carers.

“These new survey results give an indication of the stigma surrounding schizophrenia that exists in the community, and this needs to be addressed if we are to counteract the costs of mental illness to individuals, their carers, and even society through loss of productivity,” says the CEO of the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, David Meldrum.

The survey found that just over one in four (26.2%) of the Australian families surveyed who are caring for a loved one with schizophrenia do not talk to family and friends about the care they provide.

This suggests that caring for someone with schizophrenia can lead to isolation and challenges. In Australia, around 15% of the Australian adult population, or nearly 2.4 million people, act as carers of those living with a mental illness.

The survey findings also revealed that around four out of each 10 survey respondents (43.6%) admit they have no or limited understanding of what schizophrenia is despite almost one in four (23.2%)1 knowing someone with the illness.

More concerning is that more than half of the survey respondents (54.5%) expressed a view that there is a greater stigma in society around schizophrenia than other mental illnesses, with over three quarters (84%) revealing they would not tell an employer about their schizophrenia diagnosis – with half admitting this would be out of fear of being judged or missing out on job opportunities.

In addition to the emotional cost to many families affected by this illness, schizophrenia costs the Australian economy up to $28.6 billion a year in both direct costs and loss of productivity.

The survey helps to illustrate that carers of those living with schizophrenia are being significantly impacted by the stigma associated with the illness – its results revealed that almost half of the carers surveyed revealed they have lost friendships (48.9%), had relationships break down or issues with family (44.7%) due to being a carer.

More than half of carers surveyed (57.3%) said the impact of caring for someone with a mental illness on their own life was either immense or large.

“The survey findings help to highlight our understanding that there is an acute need for better support for carers of people with a mental illness in our community, and that we need to foster a much better understanding of schizophrenia, and other mental illness in general, so that Australians affected by schizophrenia no longer suffer in silence,” says Meldrum.

During Schizophrenia Awareness Week, carers of people suffering from schizophrenia who are seeking more information are being encouraged to visit this site. This website is designed to provide carers with information about schizophrenia and links to other resources to help them support a family member or friend.

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