coupletalkMore than three-quarters of people wouldn’t tell their neighbours if they had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and a third would keep it from their boss, a new survey has found.

A survey of more than 2,000 people by charity Rethink Mental Illness found that 77% of people would not tell their neighbours if they were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Only 35% would tell their boss, while less than a third (31%) said they would tell their work colleagues, and 26% said they would keep their diagnosis from their friends.

The findings are published today in a report, Would You Tell?, which looks at people’s experiences of opening up about mental illness. It features in-depth interviews with a range of people who have been diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia or psychosis. The report explores the dilemmas people face in revealing their diagnosis, and the hostility and discrimination they sometimes meet as a result.

Would You Tell? has been released to coincide with the first Schizophrenia Awareness Week (November 11-18), which aims to raise awareness of this often misunderstood condition.

Breaking down stigma

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Schizophrenia is still one of the most stigmatised and feared illnesses in the UK, so it’s no surprise that people would be reluctant to tell others if they had it.

“This needs to change. Schizophrenia shouldn’t feel like a life sentence, and you can recover. But when people feel that they can’t talk openly about their condition, they are often left marginalised and don’t get the support they need. 

“That’s why we’re releasing this report as part of the first ever Schizophrenia Awareness Week. We need to break down the ignorance and myths around the condition, so that people with schizophrenia can reach out to others without fear of being shunned or ostracised.

“The recent controversy about supermarkets selling Halloween ‘mental patient’ costumes shows that we have a long way to go, but we can’t just accept things the way they are now. It could be the difference between someone getting the support they need to recover, or having to battle schizophrenia alone.”

Yvonne’s story

Yvonne Stewart-Williams, 52, from London, says it felt like “the end of the world” when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago: “Before that, I had a really full life – I worked hard, had lots of friends, and was always out partying. But according to the psychiatrist, all that was over. I was told that I’d never be able to have children or work again, and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want this schizophrenia!’”

She says her friends were initially sympathetic, but did not really understand her illness. “Schizophrenia was almost like something mystical to them. Over time, as I struggled with my illness, a lot of friends disappeared. But I don’t regret telling them. Your friends should love you for what you are, and if you have schizophrenia that’s a big part of your life.”

Yvonne, whose diagnosis has since been changed to schizoaffective disorder, has encountered stigma and hostility because of her diagnosis. “You do get nasty or ignorant remarks sometimes, but it says more about that person that it does me, so I just dismiss it and move on. I don't let people like that drag me down!”

She says she has been inspired by the bravery of her mother, who also had schizophrenia. “Mum always insisted on being open about her diagnosis, even though at times she was reduced to tears by the stigma she faced. I took that attitude from her, and was always able to talk to her about what I was going through. She’s been my bedrock of support.”