Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Schizophrenia struggle for family

schizophrenia brain scan
People were polled in 27 countries across the world

People with schizophrenia are more likely to experience discrimination by those closest to them than by employers or officials, a global survey suggests.

Nearly half of the 730 respondents to the King's College, London, study reported negative treatment by relatives and friends after diagnosis.

About a third said they had encountered problems when seeking or keeping a job.

Writing in the Lancet, the authors said they saw a remarkable consistency in those surveyed in 27 countries.

The sample was drawn from across the world, including countries in Western and Eastern Europe, as well as India, Malaysia and the US.

Some 25 people in each country who were deemed to be sufficiently "representative" were questioned in face-to-face interviews.

Making/keeping friends: 47%
Finding a job: 29%
Wanting to start a family: 20%
By police: 17%
Using public transport: 10%
Buying insurance: 4%
During pregnancy and childbirth: 2%

They were asked to evaluate their treatment across a range of fields - stretching from personal relationships to purchasing insurance or taking out a bank loan.

Some 47% of those asked reported discrimination when it came to making and keeping friends, while 43% found similar problems with family.

Anticipation of discrimination was however higher than the actual experience of it.

Nearly 60% of respondents expected negative treatment at the hands of a partner but under 30% actually experienced it when they embarked on an intimate or sexual relationship.

More than 60% had expected to be discriminated against to some degree when it came to seeking work, but, again, under 30% actually experienced negative treatment.

Professor Graham Thornicroft, lead author of the study, said the gulf between expectations and reality was not however a cause for celebration.

It's often the people you think will be the most supportive who simply do not know how to react when confronted with mental health problems
Sue Baker
Time to Change

"The anticipation of discrimination means many people don't even try looking for work in the first place and employers need to do more to show they can accommodate people with mental health problems.

"But it's not just a question of more legislation. Attitudes have to change as all the research shows it's people's responses to those with mental health problems which can make dealing with the condition a lot harder."

The mental health charity Rethink, which is launching a campaign aimed at challenging perceptions about mental health, says the study's findings tally with its own research.

"It's often the people you think will be the most supportive who simply do not know how to react when confronted with mental health problems," said Sue Baker, director of the Time To Change campaign.

"Family and friends may act for all the right reasons - keeping someone away from a wedding or party for instance because they think they're not 'up to it' - but this simply reinforces the feeling of stigma and isolation."

The chief executive of the charity Mind, which is also involved in the Time to Change campaign, said: "People with mental health problems and their carers consistently identify discrimination as the single most important issue to be addressed.

"Together we can put an end to this last great taboo and bring attitudes towards mental health into the 21st Century," Paul Farmer said.

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