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3 April 2019
Let me paint you a picture I have seen too many times before.
A man, or a woman, aged somewhere between early 20s and 60 years old. Living alone. Never visited by family. Perhaps, occasionally seen by a case worker or social worker. Their only community outings are trips to see their psychiatrist.
They are diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Sometimes it has got so bad that they are frightened to leave the house; too scared to even catch a bus.
This is the common theme of schizophrenia and isolation.
Too often, people diagnosed with a schizophreniform illness – schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychotic bipolar, psychotic depression, schizoid personality disorder – are living a life on their own. Disconnected from community and divided from their family.
This kind of isolation is not only (in all likelihood) negative for a person’s illness prognosis, it can put the brakes on that person’s recovery journey.
There is a great sadness in me when I see or hear of a person with schizophrenia who is not understood or accepted by their family. Having a supportive family is one of the dominant factors in my own successful recovery journey. My parents are loving and supportive; my brother is kind and patient and generous. They have helped me move from a state of feeling terribly burdened with my illness (and the significant side-effects of my medication, Clopine) to a feeling of being confident in my world and interacting positively at work and with friends and in my community.
Plus, there are also great benefits to be had from social interaction. For one thing, it’ll get you out of the house!
It also offers the opportunity of connection with other people; from relaxed co-existence to deep bonding. It can help your self-image and, vitally, the kind of stigma or self-stigma that eats into your soul. It can help you have fun and regain your sense of optimism. It can provide a context within in which your recovery goals seem achievable. You may make friends who understand you and can provide support when you need it most.
Perhaps vitally, it can distract you from the symptoms or side-effects of your medication.
However, I also understand that social interaction is not always easy or comfortable for people with schizophrenia.
At this point, I wish to bring to your attention an Australian mental health program called Partners in Recovery (PIR). PIR welcomes all people suffering mental distress to a location where they can engage in activities, meet other people, help keep the program running and connect, through support facilitators, to the kinds of help they may need. This help can range from connecting with psychiatrists or psychologists to searching for viable housing options or getting support with daily living. In many ways, it is the ideal forum for people with schizophrenia to connect with people and the community.
The sad epilogue to this blog is that Partners in Recovery is slated for removal by the Federal Government in order to help pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
If you or a loved one experiences mental illness and might benefit from PIR, perhaps they could use it to overcome social isolation, it may be worth your while to send an email or a letter to your local Federal Member to appeal for this program to be funded into the future. The prognosis of you or your loved one with schizophrenia may hang in the balance.
Dr. Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dr Richard Schweizer - Photo Credit news.com.au