CEO Katie Fisher: "It's time to end the fear and stigma of complex mental health problems such as schizophrenia"

As featured by the Independent, St Andrew's CEO Katie Fisher explains why we need to understand what it’s like living with more complex conditions such as psychosis and borderline personality disorder.

"After more than a decade of hugely successful mental health awareness campaigning, 2020 is the time to focus our efforts on more complex problems such as schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

In my role as CEO of a mental healthcare charity, I work closely with patients who live with these incredibly complex mental health problems. Their experiences can be both debilitating and life changing. For many, ongoing care and rehabilitation is a necessity. But hope is also important – it’s the difference between surviving and living. That’s why we need to open up conversations around mental health, in particular a discussion of our response to patients who are struggling with these conditions.

Thanks to the success of mental health awareness campaigns – including those run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness – we have made great leaps in dismissing unhelpful prejudices surrounding conditions such as anxiety and depression. In fact we are in a completely different place today, compared to where we were in 2007, when such campaigns began.

But I think as a society we need to understand what it’s like living with more complex conditions such as psychosis, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.

To find out how big the variance in stigma is, we conducted a public survey – the results of which are significant. It found that despite increased understanding of common mental health problems, complex conditions are still hugely misunderstood. For example, three in five people still believe the adage that schizophrenia means having a split personality, while one in 10 confused schizophrenia with someone who has psychopathic traits.

This misunderstanding of schizophrenia has undoubtedly led to fear and stigma. One in four people admitted they would be nervous if someone they knew was diagnosed with schizophrenia, compared to just one in 20 when asked the same question about depression. Imagine the impact that has on the person living with the illness, particularly if they’re living in the community.

One patient, who was recently in our care, couldn’t have described it better; she explained that schizophrenia is not a choice, just like someone wouldn’t choose to have cancer. She said people’s judgements often come through a lack of knowledge and understanding, rather than anything malicious.