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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 01:28 GMT
'I overcame schizophrenia'
Emma Harding
Emma Harding has battled schizophrenia
The Oscar-tipped film "A Beautiful Mind" starring Russell Crowe tells how brilliant mathematician John Nash made a stunning breakthrough in the field of economic game theory but then developed schizophrenia.

A key theme is that although schizophrenia is often a debilitating condition, it is possible to overcome it. BBC News Online's Richard Warry talked to Emma Harding, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia while at college.

Emma Harding is a full-time employment support worker in the NHS.

Like many new students, Emma Harding found the stress of moving away from home very difficult to bear.

But unlike most undergraduates, she did not adjust after the first couple of hesitant days.

Having a diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean you have to be reconciled to doing nothing for the rest of your life

Instead, she admits the stress sent her "over the edge" to the point where she took a drugs overdose.

She received hospital care, and convinced the authorities that she had made a good recovery.

But underneath the bravado, deep problems still remained.

She made it through most of the rest of her first year of her social psychology course at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

But the prospect of returning home to Cambridgeshire for the summer intensified her feelings of paranoia.

Skipping appointments

Russell Crowe plays brilliant, but disturbed academic John Nash
She began to skip appointments with her psychiatrist, and her behaviour became increasingly erratic.

"I became more and more unwell, and gradually developed a complex in which I believed I was God," she said.

"I behaved very bizarrely, drawing eyes and mouths on the phone and going up to lampposts and sticking cardboard crosses on them."

Emma totally withdrew from all her friends, and would stay in her room for days on end.

She made an altar out of candles and old drawing board, and dismantled her bed, believing it to be an antenna absorbing evil vibes from across the world.

I behaved very bizarrely, drawing eyes and mouths on the phone and going up to lampposts and sticking cardboard crosses on them

Eventually, when she told her father that she was God, he decided to act.

He persuaded her to visit the local GP under the pretence of seeking help for his bad back.

Once challenged, however, Emma denied having any delusions about being God.

Faced with blunt denials, the GP was powerless to help her, but did arrange for her to see a psychiatrist.

Hospital admission

Eventually, nine months after she had tried suicide, Emma was admitted to the psychiatric wing of a hospital in Huntingdon.

Russell Crowe
Nash suffers from paranoid delusions
She was diagnosed as suffering from psychosis, and put on drugs.

Since then she has taken four different types of medication, having to switch after developing side-effects every couple of years.

But, save for one relapse when she stopped taking her medication, she has waged a successful battle against her illness.

She managed to complete her degree, and set about trying to land a job in the mental health services.

"I really wanted to work in mental health because I thought I had a connection and that sharing my experiences could help others get to the point where they could take control of their lives again."

It wasn't easy. She applied for dozens of posts, and received just one rejection letter in return.

However, she finally landed a post at South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust under a scheme to employ people who have been mentally ill.

She spent two years as a health care assistant, and is now a senior project worker with a programme designed to help people with mental health problems back into employment.

Residual problems

Emma still has residual symptoms of her schizophrenia.

She still sometimes hears people calling her name, and will hear footsteps behind her even when she is wearing headphones.

But she has learned to cope with these minor irritations, and get on with her life.

One of the more lingering problems is the patronising attitude of people who are not prepared to treat people with mental illness as valid human beings.

"People have a superiority complex, they think having a mental illness equates to being stupid, irrelevant or valueless.

"I still have big issues about my self-confidence, and I worry about how I come across to other people.

"But I do my job quite well, and I get quite a lot of positive feedback."

Emma is adamant that mental illness can be conquered. In fact, good things can come out of the battle to beat it.

She said: "Having a diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean you have to be reconciled to doing nothing for the rest of your life.

"It is a huge struggle, but in some ways the insight you gain from overcoming your difficulties can be really inspiring."

See also:

06 Jan 02 | Health
Schizophrenia drug cuts relapses
20 Dec 00 | Medical notes
Schizophrenia: The facts
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