While Canadians are more aware of mental health issues like depression and anxiety, many still misunderstand schizophrenia. (iStock)

People unfamiliar, uncomfortable with schizophrenia: poll

A new public opinion poll suggests that people living in the province of Ontario don’t understand schizophrenia and the people who live with this serious mental disorder.

The poll by Ipsos found that 57 per cent of respondents mistakenly believe that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities. This is not a symptom associated with the disease.

Some 300,000 Canadians are affected by schizophrenia and symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganization and impaired ability to function in society. Affected people need lifelong treatment. Therapy with anti-psychotic drugs and psychotherapy can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

“Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that can affect perception, thinking, and behaviour,” says Dr. Karen De Freitas, forensic psychiatrist at Ontario Shores. (iStock)

Brother diagnosed with schizophrenia

Candice McAlister has a brother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 15 years ago. He is following a treatment plan and is now doing well. He finished high school, got a driver’s licence and car and is now working part-time. 

But looking back at the time he was diagnosed, McAlister says things were difficult.

“Even close family members and friends of mine were a little bit fearful about interacting with my brother…It made us feel more isolated. When people are reacting that way, you don’t feel like you can reach out and ask for help.

“If he was diagnosed with, say,  cancer at that time, I’m sure people would have been stopping by, offering food, different…kindness. But if anything, people backed away at that point.”

Candice McAlister talks about her brother’s diagnosis and how it affected her and her family. (CNW Group/Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences)
Reticence with regards dating, hiring, renting

McAlister is now an ambassador for hope at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. This is a public hospital in Whitby, Ontario which offers specialized assessment and treatment services to those living with complex and serious mental illness. It commissioned this poll in honour of its 100th anniversary. 

It found that 61 per cent of respondents said they would not date someone with schizophrenia. One in three would not be willing to hire someone with the disorder and 38 per cent said they would not rent a lodging to them.

A plea for dignity, compassion and kindness

Several public awareness campaigns have reduced stigma and made Canadians more aware of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. McAlister says there have been great strides in this but there is still a ways to go to improve attitudes towards people with schizophrenia. 

What she hopes people will understand is that “ people that are going through a challenge or are diagnosed with schizophrenia, they’re still a person and to treat them with dignity and compassion…and kindness.”

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