Clearing up misconceptions of schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood mental health illnesses. (WPVI)

Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood mental health illnesses.

It affects about one-percent of the population, but experts say the more people know about it, the better off people who suffer from the disease are.

27-year-old Darryl Hargrove recently got help at the Horizon House updating his resume.

Three years ago, he was working two jobs and everything was going smoothly.

"I was part time, but was making full time hours," Hargrove said.

Then he says seemingly out of nowhere, he started feeling what he calls 'bad energy' and then hearing voices. At times, those voices were cruel.

"I would walk past a bridge and they were telling me to jump...commit suicide and no one loves you, nobody wants to be with you," he said.

He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 24. He had to quit working and get help.

"It's a shame because I have a lot of potential and having my diagnosis, it stops me from growing and excelling in life," Hargrove said.

Dr. Arthur Evans of Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services says schizophrenia is a collection of disorders that can lead to hallucinations and delusions.

Just like with Darryl, it typically strikes when people are in the prime of their lives between the ages of 16 to 30.

To give me an idea of what it's like, I did a training exercise created by clinical psychologist Dr. Patricia Deegan. She complied a variety of voices based on real patients' experiences.

While hearing the voices I'm asked to complete different tasks.

The most difficult was having a conversation, answering simple questions.

But as distressing as it can be, Dr. Evans says there is hope.

He says two-thirds of people with schizophrenia improve with treatment, medication, and therapy and can live meaningful lives.

He also wants to clear up misconceptions such as that people with schizophrenia are dangerous.

"Generally speaking, people with schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population," Evans said.

And the voices and psychosis typically aren't always there.

For Darryl, he says they come and go in cycles.

Right now, he's not hearing any. When he does, medication helps him cope, but doesn't eliminate the voices.

Nationwide, there's a lot that needs to be done to improve mental health care.

But Evans says in our area, there are enough resources to help.

Still, he stresses people in the community also need to get involved.

"It's not just how great our treatments are, people then have to interact in a community context and if that community context is one where there is stigma or discrimination, it can really undermine great work that happens in treatment," Evans said.

Darryl, who is working to get back on his feet, has a message he hopes others will hear.

"Be respectful, everyone deserves respect in life," Hargrove said.

And to give people a better understanding of mental health problems and how to help, the city runs a free 'Mental Health First Aid Course.'
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