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“I’ve lived with paranoid schizophrenia – let’s put research into finding a cure”

In this blog Alex describes what it was like to experience psychosis for the first time. Alex wants to see the same funding put into finding treatments for mental illness as there is for physical illness.

My journey towards recovery started in hospital, and it started with extremely high dosages of medication, lots of psychology sessions and various talking therapies.

I had received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, and was experiencing constant auditory hallucinations (in the form of voices) and delusional perception and preoccupation. I had completely 'lost touch with reality' and couldn't remember how to find my way back.

Although I joked that I must have told my life story to every single doctor and nurse on the ward, talking about my past and my situation did help me to make sense of how I was feeling.

Therapy allowed me to start to understand the reasons why I could have become unwell. It was crucial to my recovery, enabling me to take greater control of my situation and develop a sense of ownership over all the strange things which had happened to me.  

These treatments were extensive and definitely a good start to my recovery. But after I left hospital I was not yet better, in fact I was still far from it. The medications I took seemed to supress my symptoms, rather than deal with the root cause of my experiences, and I strongly believe that much more research is required to develop treatments which actually tackle the illness, rather than only managing the symptoms.

It seemed to me, that if I wanted to recover, it was down to me to continue challenging how my symptoms affected my day-to-day life. The medication wasn’t going to cut it alone. I used techniques I had learnt in CBT and other therapies to try and take on the voices and delusional experiences.

Greater research into medication and treatment could have helped me to recover faster, and also reduce the pressure I felt to figure out coping strategies of my own.

Schizophrenia is a serious, long-term and often life-limiting condition, and in that sense it is similar to other physical conditions such as cancer and heart disease. However, unlike physical health conditions, mental illness seems to come with the expectation that the individual should find ways to fight the illness themselves.

A massive amount of research has been carried out to develop treatments for physical health conditions which are increasingly effective. Now is the time when equivalent research must be done to develop the same level of treatment for mental illnesses.

Per person affected, 22 times more money goes into researching cancer and ways of curing it compared to mental illness. This discrepancy needs to be addressed, because at the moment too many people are suffering in silence.

Leaving hospital can be a daunting and difficult process. I was very lucky that I had a strong support network around me made up of friends and families, but not everybody is so fortunate. Many people struggle with their symptoms for years, never really achieving any kind of true peace, because there are no real cures for mental illness, only lots of different pills which suppress the different experiences.

My recovery was aided by the social groups, therapy groups and services I accessed after leaving hospital, and it saddens me to hear about organisation after organisation shutting down due to lack of funding. These secondary services are crucial to people recovering from severe mental illness, because they offer emotional, psychological and peer-led support and companionship.

I hope that in the future, more research will be done to develop truly effective medications. I’d like to see treatments that tackle the root causes of mental illness in society and the brain. We should be aiming high to cure people of these conditions – rather than just helping people to manage the unpleasant symptoms.

We’re funding multiple projects looking to improve understanding and treatment of schizophrenia, from looking at how it first develops in the brain to seeing if we could prevent it with folic acid.

Last updated: 30 April 2018

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