Not Mentally Mainstream Part 1: Let's talk about schizophrenia


I've recently read some articles that referred to anxiety and depression as "mainstream" or "socially acceptable" mental health issues.

I've never considered my mental health problems "mainstream" before. For most of my life, I believed that my depression and anxiety were weaknesses instead of illnesses. I was embarrassed and thought I wouldn't be accepted if I talked about it.

If, today, anxiety and depression are considered "socially acceptable," we've made great strides. It means that people are receiving more support for their depression and anxiety disorders now than they have in previous decades. It means that, today, people feel OK talking about it.

But, by calling some mental illnesses "socially acceptable," that means there are many other mental illnesses that aren't supported by society. We still have a long way to go in raising awareness before the stigma attached to ALL mental health issues is erased.

Medium contributor Rebecca Chamaa wrote, "While I rarely mention my schizophrenia diagnosis, I do find it easier and more socially acceptable to talk about the times I have experienced depression and to discuss my generalized anxiety disorder."

"Anxiety and depression are two conditions that are more commonly talked about because celebrities have publicly discussed having these disorders. ... While this is great, I wish the same were true for severe mental illness. Sadly, it is not."

Often in the media, I have seen people with severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, being misrepresented  — portrayed as "crazy" or "dangerous." On the contrary, it's rare for someone diagnosed with schizophrenia to be violent, and the individual is more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator, according to PsyCom.

The actual symptoms of schizophrenia can include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, disorganized speech, lack of pleasure, withdrawal and struggling with the basics of daily life. The average age of onset is 18 for men and 25 for women.

One in 100 people are diagnosed with schizophrenia in the U.S. While it may not be too common, that's still a lot of people! That's more than the number of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

Cecilia McGough, an astronomy and astrophysics student at Penn State, is one of the 3.2 million people in this country diagnosed with the mental illness, and she is part of an even fewer number of people open about their diagnosis.

"Even in the mental health community, schizophrenia is shied away from because it makes people feel uncomfortable," she said in a Tedx Talk. “I’m not going to wallow in self pity about my diagnosis. … I’m not going to rest until anyone who has schizophrenia worldwide is not afraid to say the words, ‘I have schizophrenia.’ Because it’s okay,"

Cecilia described just how terrifying the mental illness actually is. Ever since her freshmen year of college, she has seen hallucinations of an evil clown, spiders and a creepy girl with hair hanging in front of her face. Even during her Tedx Talk, she said the clown was sitting in the audience.

"The thing is, I’m not that much different than the rest of you. We all see, feel and hear things when we’re dreaming. I’m just someone who cannot turn off my nightmares, even when I’m awake," she said.

After attempting to take her life in 2014, Cecilia received medical treatment and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“Don’t let anyone convince you not to get medical help. It’s not worth it. It’s your choice and it’s also your right. Getting medical help was the best decision I have ever made, and I’m confident that I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t get the proper medical help," she said in the video.

Cecilia is the CEO of the nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia, the first known organization with the mission to empower college students who have schizophrenia. Considering  most people with schizophrenia start seeing symptoms at this age, she wanted to provide support and be a resource for them as they are going through this terrifying transition.

“You can be successful and still have schizophrenia. We need to change the face of schizophrenia because the representation, currently, is inaccurate. … I have schizophrenia, and I am not a monster," she said.

For more information about Students With Schizophrenia, visit www.sws.ngo. For more information about the symptoms and treatment of schizophrenia, visit Help Guide.


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