Living With... Schizophrenia
According to NHS Choices, schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include:
- hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that do not exist
- delusions - unusual beliefs that are not based on reality and often contradict the evidence
- muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
- changes in behaviour
Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
There are many misconceptions and negative stereotypes about people with schizophrenia, which make people think that people with schizophrenia are violent, out of control or have split personalities.
The reality is that schizophrenia is not split personality, and people with schizophrenia do not have ‘multiple’ personalities or any other personality disorder. Research shows that people are as likely to be struck by lightning as to be harmed by a stranger with a mental illness.
A smartly dressed, articulate young man, with a broad smile and a strong handshake is probably not the first picture most people conjure up when imagining someone with schizophrenia. Ignorant it may sound, but 25 year old David is certainly not how most people envisage someone with a mental health problem.
Brought up in a suburban terraced house in Oldham by his mum and dad, David, his brother and sister had a happy childhood. “We didn’t want for anything”, said David, “we were happy and comfortable. My Dad was a teacher and believed that a good education is the key to a successful life. He did a lot of extra-curricular activities with us to try to give us the best start he could”.
Like most young boys playing football and going on bike rides were David’s favourite pastimes. He reminisced, “My brother and I used to go for walks in Moss Bank Park in Bolton and catch sticklebacks in the stream.”
Unfortunately, when David was 7, his parents separated and he went to live with his mother and grandfather in Bolton. He lost contact with his father and missed the stability his family had had.
Aged 17, David “got in with the wrong crowd” and started drinking heavily and dabbling with drugs. “I still managed to hold down a job as a Telesales Operator, but my friends would say things to me like, ‘You can come over to my house as long as you don’t drink’”.
It was around this time that David started to have auditory and visual hallucinations and feel paranoid. “Even though it made me very confused, I didn’t think there was anything wrong, but then my thoughts started to become reality to me and I started acting out my hallucinations.”
It was David’s sister who realised that he needed help and arranged for him to be assessed at Bolton Hospital. In 2000, he was admitted for alcohol and drug misuse, and was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.
After seven weeks at Bolton’s mental health inpatient unit, David was discharged and allocated a Social Worker to help support him. However it wasn’t long before his old habits resurfaced. “Over the following three years I was in and out of the system quite a lot”, David said, “It was a very chaotic lifestyle”.
It was while David was at the inpatient unit that a member of staff told him about volunteering with the Patients’ Council in Bolton. The Council was set up with the aim of service users helping fellow service users in a supportive role by visiting the wards and offering information about different voluntary services, and how to access them.
David joined the Council as a volunteer and really enjoyed making a positive difference in the lives of fellow patients. “There is often a gap between patients who feel like they’re isolated, and the staff. I like being able to help people see that the staff are there to support them and it’s good being able to help bridge that gap”.
David flourished as a volunteer and it wasn’t long before he came up with the idea of Creative Pastimes, a voluntary service which sits under the umbrella of the Patients’ Council. He secured funding for a three month pilot scheme, and started his initiative.
Bike rides, a walking group, cinema and shopping trips and service user social evenings are some of the activities that Creative Pastimes offers service users as part of their therapy. David feels it’s important for patients to engage with activities while they are receiving treatment. “If you choose to partake while you’re here, you will find you can do and cope with a lot more when you’re discharged from hospital.”
David would like to carry on helping service users once he has been discharged, “I plan to carry on volunteering, but I’d also like to do a Psychology course.”
When asked what advice he would give to people in a similar situation, but who aren’t receiving help yet, David said, “If you realise you’ve got a problem, go and ask for help. You can’t deal with it on your own. The staff are there to help you; you just have to trust them. For me, my faith is also very important; I wouldn’t have got through this without it.”
*Homicide Inquiries: What sense do they make? Psychiatric Bulletin, Szmukler G, 2000. This refers to people being killed by someone suffering from a mental illness with symptoms of psychosis, such as schizophrenia.
Find everything you need to know about Schizophrenia on NHS Choices, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, with links to other useful resources.