The most debilitating of the common mental illnesses, affecting approximately one in 100 Australians, is schizophrenia. Dr Vaughan Carr, head of the Schizophrenia Research Institute and member of the advisory board for Super Friend, an awareness program by super funds facilitated by Industry Funds Forum and several insurance companies, says that schizophrenia is a condition with fuzzy boundaries.

Dr Vaughan Carr: “There is a range of conditions that are related to schizophrenia: schizo effective disorder, reactive psychosis, drug-induced psychosis and a collection of odd or peculiar, eccentric personality characteristics that some people have,” he said. “ And we think that they’re related to schizophrenia as well. So all up, this group would comprise probably about 2 to 3 per cent of the population at any one time, which puts it around about half as common as depression. Yet it is much more disabling condition that comes on typically in young people, in adolescence and young adults – the peak age of onset is between about 15 and 25…

“But it then sits with the young person for life. It’s a life-long condition associated with quite a range of disabilities. To give you a picture as to what it’s like, and how to recognise it and what the essence of the condition is, there are three components:

1. “The first and most obvious are the psychotic symptoms or what are called positive symptoms, comprising delusions and hallucinations, paranoia, hearing voices and so forth, when there’s nobody about, when there’s nothing else to explain it. Disorganised thinking and so on. These are the most conspicuous symptoms. These are the symptoms that bring people to attention. These are the phenomena that kept them locked up in silence for many years. But they are actually sitting there on the surface. And they occur in a whole range of other conditions and they’re probably not specific to schizophrenia. The key things that are important in schizophrenia and related conditions are the other sets of phenomena that sit underneath those delusions and hallucinations:

2. “The so-called negative symptoms, which comprise diminution in emotional expressiveness, reduced capacities to socialise and form relationships, paralysing loss of motivation, incentive or initiative, and an incapacity to achieve pleasure or to derive pleasure from life. And that may not sound like a great deal but these phenomena are very severe. And they run very deep and there’s very little that can be done about them.

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