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Ontario Shores aims to educate about schizophrenia

A majority of Ontarians are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the symptoms of schizophrenia, according to a new Ipsos poll.

The poll, conducted on behalf of Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, shows 57 per cent of Ontarians believe people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities, a symptom not associated with the chronic illness.

In honour of its 100th anniversary, the Whitby-based specialty mental health hospital sought the opportunity to gauge society’s view of this chronic brain disease, which, according to the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, affects 300,000 Canadians.

“It’s hurtful how little people know about schizophrenia,” says Candice McAlister.

McAlister is a Bowmanville resident whose brother has had the disease for 15 years.

“At the time, it was a popular belief that only those people who had a bad childhood, or experienced abuse or trauma would develop a mental illness, especially one like schizophrenia. This was not the case for my brother, but it made me feel more isolated because I didn’t want others to think that about my brother or family,” she says.

As McAlister notes, the stigma associated with schizophrenia remains prevalent even as society’s literacy around mental health improves thanks to social awareness campaigns and corporate fundraising efforts.

Yet, when it comes to schizophrenia, 61 per cent of Ontarians admit they wouldn’t date and 55 per cent say they wouldn’t know how to act around someone with schizophrenia.

“This confirms what we already knew,” says Karim Mamdani, president and CEO of Ontario Shores. “People living with schizophrenia are misunderstood, isolated and ignored.”

In addition to 90,000 outpatient visits annually, Ontario Shores provides inpatient treatment to adolescent, adult, geriatric and forensic mental health populations. Of its 346 inpatients, more than 55 per cent of patients have a diagnosis of schizophrenia at time of discharge.

“If schizophrenia was a chronic physical illness, people living with it would be treated with compassion, understanding and respect,” adds Mamdani. “With treatment,

people living with schizophrenia can lead a meaningful life. As a society we need to be caring, empathetic and encouraging of treatment and support.”

Mamdani’s views of how far we need to go to understand schizophrenia are supported by the data compiled by Ipsos.

The poll indicates one in three (34 per cent) wouldn’t be willing to hire anyone with schizophrenia, while 38 per cent said they wouldn’t rent an apartment or room to someone with the disorder.

Moreover, a full one in ten agreed with the idea that people with schizophrenia should be kept away from society.

“Today, my brother has completed his high school credits, has a car, drives, works part time, and he’s happy,” says McAlister. “He’s come a long way compared to those darkest times. It’s important that people start to understand, empathize and encourage, and it’s critical to know that things can get better.”

For information on schizophrenia and its impact on families and clinicians visit www.mindvine.ontarioshores.ca

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