May 14 – May 20, 2012  is Schizophrenia Awareness Week (SAW) in Australia, kicking off Schizophrenia Awareness, sponsored by the Ministry of Mental Health, which will be followed up by the American SAW, May 20-26.

While other illnesses get lets of ‘press time’ during the discussions about the newly updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, schizophrenia, a debilitating and difficult illness, has taken a back seat.

But it’s time people paid less attention to psychiatric politics, and more attention to one of its major illnesses.

Writes National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI),

People with this illness not only face difficult and at times debilitating symptoms, but they also face a society that stigmatizes and often isolates them.

According to NIMH approximately 1.1% of the population over the age of 18 suffers from schizophrenia, or, in other words, as NAMI writes in its “Facts on schizophrenia“, ”

at any one time as many as 51 million people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia.

Despite the stigma surrounding the illness,

. . .it is a highly treatable disease. In fact, the treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60 percent, compared with 41-52 percent for heart patients.

Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, who sponsor the week, note,

  • In fact, there are more Americans with schizophrenia (over 2 million) than there are residents of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming combined.
  • Treatment and other economic costs due to schizophrenia are enormous, estimated between $32.5 and $65 billion annually.
  • Between one-third and one-half of all homeless adults have schizophrenia.
  • Fifty percent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have received no treatment.

Schizophrenia Facts and Statistics” put out by schizophrenia.com notes the relative numbers of Americans suffering from various diseases:

Therefore, the approximate number of people in the United States suffering from:

  • Schizophrenia: Over 2.2 million people
  • Multiple Sclerosis: 400,000 people
  • Insulin-dependent Diabetes: 350,000 people
  • Muscular Dystrophy: 35,000 people

Schizophrenia ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide (see  World Health Organization’s mental health publications).

But research expenditures on schizophrenia still lag far behind those on other serious illnesses.

In the publication, Federal Failure in Psychiatric Research the authors note, for example, that

In 2002, 28.5 percent of NIMH awards went to research on serious mental illnesses. These illnesses account for 58 percent of the total costs of all mental illnesses. For every $1 NIMH spent for research on schizophrenia, NIH spent $30 on research for HIV/AIDS.

Australia is all geared up and ready to go, and they have numerous lectures and workshops planned around the continent.

They have a website dedicated to it touting that

We have organised a range of activities for Schizophrenia Awareness Week designed to engage different sections of the community. These include our Annual Symposium and Annual Poetry Competition. 

You can sign up for the Schizophrenia Awareness Week mailing list to receive the poster to the left and related toolkit sponsored by the Australian Schizophrenia Fellowship by following this link: poster is available as part of the Schizophrenia Awareness Week 2012 Kit.Americans can profit from the toolkit, as well, and can garner inspiration for our own SAW from Australia’s events and commitment.

It’s a week that should not go wasted.

****I can’t help but notice (and I hope the powers that be will forgive me) that Australia has rolled out the red carpet to greet SAW, with events scheduled to appeal to all audiences, with posters, with toolkits, with ad campaigns. Google “Schizophrenia Awareness Week” and you will find much–95% of it coming out of Australia. Granted we here in the U.S. have another week to show our feathers–but it seems a poor statement about energy invested into mental illness here in comparison with those down under. RF

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