There is an average of 285,000 schizophrenics in Australia.

Around 46 common chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, and endocrine diseases, appear more in schizophrenics than in the general population.

One third of young schizophrenics (under 40 years) suffer from non-psychiatric disorders requiring medical care.

Schizophrenics are 50 percent more likely to suffer from a heart attack, 20 times more like to be susceptible to cancer and have a 25 years shorter life span than an average Australian. Substance abuse is also a significant risk factor.

To add to the plight, the physical health of these schizophrenics has been unchanged over the past 100 years according to The Schizophrenia Fellowship of New South Wales.

When considering various health statistics in Australia, mental health groups are justified when saying that schizophrenics have the worst health profile in Australia.

Chief Executive Rob Ramjan said, “If it was any other group there would be screams about it in the street.”

He even provides a reason for the shorter lifespan. He said, “It is the physical health issues that are killing them, not the mental health illness.”

He also highlighted the fact that schizophrenics have the highest rate of type II Diabetes in the world. In addition, many new anti-psychotics medication like clozapine, olanzapine, risperidone, aripiprazole, quetiapine fumarate, and ziprasidone can elevate blood sugar.

Schizophrenics also have problems with continuing medication as Mr. Rajman explains.

“In other areas, people will have a disorder but they won’t get the treatment and there are two possible reasons for that.”

“One is that the health system because of the stigma associated with mental illness is not providing the treatment and the other is that the person with schizophrenia may have impaired decision making.”

“So if somebody is complaining of a chest pain they might be delusional, but unfortunately they might be having a heart attack,” he said.

He narrates an incident to further emphasise on negligence towards schizophrenics:

“A guy that I used to case manage years ago had a motorcycle accident and went to a large hospital. They saw on his medical record that he has schizophrenia. He was left in the waiting area for 11 hours. When they finally checked on him he was dead. He’d had massive internal injuries. But because of the diagnosis of mental illness he was not treated in the way that he should have been. So that barrier still exists and it’s a massive barrier to people getting appropriate and adequate treatment.”

He also brought the fact into notice that Australian government should spend double the current amount on mental health.

Another disturbing reality that he brought into the picture was that Australia currently has the worst records in OECD countries of helping people with mental illness return to their jobs.

“Having a group of people who have the worst health profile in this country who can’t get employment who are living in poverty leads to a hopeless situation,” he said.

He also said that research has found that simple physical health care measure like dental hygiene can reduce mental health symptoms.

He said, “It’s the whole person that needs to be looked at. Not just treat the symptoms, but treat the whole person. Assist the person on their recovery journey,” he said.

Role of community participation in managing a schizophrenic is imperative as Mr. Ramjan said, “People with schizophrenia, major mental illness, want a better quality of life. They need access to the services that will help them get that,”

photo credit: Photo Extremist 

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