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Journeys in Mental Health: World Schizophrenia Day

For our third ‘Journeys in Mental Health’ blog on World Schizophrenia Day, PLOS Mental Health hears about the challenges and stigma faced by our contributor when they were diagnosed with Schizophrenia and how they changed the narrative of their life to find a new purpose.

Schizophrenia, overturning a ‘death sentence’

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in an era where mental health was a topic that was shrouded in silence and avoidance, and the term ‘schizophrenia’ evoked shocking images in people’s minds, ranging from violent crime scenes to individuals wandering aimlessly, screaming, homeless, and unpredictable. This visual depiction that has been created in people’s imaginations, illustrated the misconceptions and stigma associated with the condition, and for me, this was how I was perceived by those who knew of my diagnosis. These stereotypes led me into isolation and feeling overwhelmed by fear, as I grappled with the implications of my diagnosis and that I was given a prognosis that I felt was comparable to a death sentence. My future was determined by professionals and whoever felt necessitated to share their views (right or wrong), although with good intentions. However, their focus was fixated on what I could not do and what I would never achieve as a result of my diagnosis. I found myself in a state of disempowerment and uncertainty about the purpose of my life.

A doomed future and trying to make sense of experiencing symptoms by which I was diagnosed was distressing enough on its own, but compounded by stigma, discrimination, and ignorance, it became profoundly destructive. The extent of this impact led to multiple admissions to psychiatric institutions and involuntary care, which further exposed me to a range of human rights violations, including poor conditions in these prison-like facilities that ironically were intended to promote and support my wellbeing.

Back then, the notion of recovery was considered unattainable and mental health conditions, especially schizophrenia, was more often seen as inherently lifelong and rendering such a person unable to function in society, let alone thrive in life. The loss of decision-making was frequently the initial aspect of humanity stripped away, along with the accompanying loss of dignity.  It was like a ‘death sentence’ and it felt like what laid ahead were merely endless days of waiting for ‘execution’ day.

Doors by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Then I came to the realization that through all of this, I have not spoken, I have not expressed my views or choices, I have been left out of deciding what I want from my life. I felt disappointed and angry with myself for accepting the fate I was given without interrogating the ‘sentence’ I was handed or defending what I stood for and for allowing others to define me by a diagnosis and not as a person.

I became determined to transform my life and overturn my ‘death sentence’, and so I ignited a newfound purpose in my life to help inspire others to find the value in their experiences. Upon this discovery, schizophrenia does not have to mean that it’s the end of a journey, but rather the beginning of new possibilities and opportunities. I could envision how, not only my own journey with a mental health condition, but that of many others, could change the narratives of so many of our peers worldwide, especially those living with schizophrenia, through contributing our lived experience expertise in creating effective systems, services and improved recovery prospects for everyone who struggle with mental health problems.

…schizophrenia does not have to mean that it’s the end of a journey, but rather the beginning of new possibilities and opportunities

Today, I am grateful for the advances made in science and medicine that enable new discoveries and approaches in the field of mental health and schizophrenia, as well as the increased involvement of people with mental health conditions and their families and carers in their own treatment. This yields positive outcomes, generates hope and affords people with mental health conditions the right to quality of life.

 *The contents of this blog reflect only the personal experience and opinion of the author. This does not represent any kind of professional advice or the opinions of PLOS or PLOS Mental Health. It also does not reflect the experiences of all people with Schizophrenia.

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