Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 01:22 GMT
Schizophrenics fear violent label
The HEA's guide hopes to reduce the stigma attached to schizophrenia
Most people newly diagnosed with schizophrenia wrongly fear they will become violent because of media portrayals of mental illness, says the Health Education Authority (HEA).
The HEA is publishing a guide for schizophrenics and their families to help them know where to turn and what to expect in the early stages of schizophrenia and beyond.
Research for the 46-page book found that the most common question asked by newly diagnosed sufferers was 'will I become violent'.
A spokesman for the HEA said: "There is a basic lack of knowledge about schizophrenia. People's only information tends to come from newspaper banner headlines about violent patients.
"Violence is not, in fact, a symptom of schizophrenia. People with the illness are more likely to become timid and withdrawn.
"Schizophrenia can be successfully managed and people can live in the community and work."
He was speaking after an inquiry into the stabbing to death of a woman by schizophrenic community care patient Michael Folkes, known as Luke Warm Luke.
The guide was drawn up by mental health experts over a one-year period.
It was tested on a wide variety of users, carers and mental health workers.
It offers practical advice on issues such as hospital and community treatment, mental health legislation and self-help groups and it lists other referral agencies and their websites.
It contains a table on drugs used for schizophrenia, their possible side effects and how they react with other substances, such as illegal drugs.
Taking drugs like cannabis with powerful anti-psychotic drugs is not advised as the effects cannot be predicted and the mix can sometimes induce psychotic episodes.
The guide also lists key questions sufferers may want to ask doctors when they are first diagnosed, such as whether they can be forced to go into hospital.
"You may not consider these things when you are newly diagnosed and it may only be later that you think about issues such as your rights," said the HEA spokesman.
It is estimated that one in 100 of the population will experience an episode of schizophrenia in their lifetime. A quarter will recover completely, but 10-15% will experience more enduring problems.
It is currently thought that schizophrenia is triggered by a mixture of personal and social factors, including stressful life experiences, taking illegal drugs such as LSD and genetic factors or biochemical brain changes.
The HEA says symptoms may be positive, including new or unusual forms of thoughts, or negative, such as social withdrawal.
The cost of treating schizophrenia, including loss of employment, is around £2.6bn a year, according to the HEA.
The National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF), which contributed to the guide, said it was "a positive step" that a government body was making mental health a priority.
A spokesman said one of the problems with treatment was that services around the country were patchy.
The government is expected to announce interim national standards for mental health care in the next month or so to fill the gap before a national framework of care comes into effect in the year 2000.
The NSF wants the government to invest £1.5bn in mental healthcare during this Parliament to improve an area which has been dubbed "the Cinderella service".
It says the NHS spends 15 times more on ulcer drugs than on anti-psychotic drugs despite the wide prevalence of mental illness.
Healthy Living with Schizophrenia is available from the HEA on 01235 465565.