Tuesday, June 10, 2008

NAMI Poll on Perceptions of Schizophrenia

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently commissioned a poll from Harris Interactive regarding public awareness of and attitudes towards schizophrenia.

Here are some of the findings, pulled from the NAMI report:

Two million Americans are living with schizophrenia (1% of the nation's population age 18 or older). NAMI notes that this is twice the number of people living with HIV/AIDS.

With medication, the symptoms of schizophrenia can often be controlled successfully. About 50% of those diagnosed with the illness can improve significantly or recover completely over time. However, only a third of those living with schizophrenia actually receive treatment, and there is an enormous delay, averaging 8.5 years, between when someone first experiences symptoms and when he/she receives treatment.

People mistake, overemphasize, or underestimate certain symptoms of schizophrenia. The greatest misconception (64%) is that "split or multiple personalities" are symptoms of schizophrenia. Symptoms such as drug abuse (24%), alcohol abuse (23%), insomnia (41%), and disorganized speech (35%) are also not widely recognized.

Violent behavior as a symptom was selected by 60% of the public, which represents a fundamental fault line in how Americans view schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Ironically, most individuals with schizophrenia are not prone to violence; they typically withdraw from social interaction and simply prefer to be left alone.

The U.S. Surgeon General reported ten years ago that although some research exists to support public concern, "the overall likelihood of violence is low" and the "overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." The "greatest risk" is from persons dually diagnosed with both a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. There is also a "small elevation of risk" for persons with severe disorders such as psychosis, "especially if they are noncompliant with their medication."

Other studies support the U.S. Surgeon General's basic assessment and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has noted that substance abuse "always increases violent behavior, regardless of the presence of schizophrenia." Meanwhile, people with serious mental illnesses are as many as ten times more likely to be victims of violence than the general public.

[Editor's Note: Professor Dorean Marguerite Koenig, a member of the ABA's Task Force on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty and a Professor of Law at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, notes that schizophrenia is by far the most common mental disorder seen in capital defendants.]

The vast majority of Americans recognize that schizophrenia is an illness (85%) and that with ongoing care, people diagnosed with schizophrenia can lead independent lives (79%).

But only one-fourth (24%) of the general public consider themselves to be familiar with the illness. In a list of 11 common medical conditions that included heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression, only Lou Gehrig's disease and multiple sclerosis ranked lower than schizophrenia in familiarity.
For more information and to read the full report, visit http://www.nami.org/.

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