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'Schizophrenia is certainly not a life sentence': The founder of Students With Schizophrenia on tackling mental health taboos

'Having schizophrenia is nothing to be embarrassed about.'

5 days ago

Experiencing a mental health condition at a young age can be incredibly daunting, which is exactly why Cecilia McGough set up Students With Schizophrenia. Cecilia, who has had schizophrenia her entire life, established the group to empower students who have schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder worldwide and their families through support, outreach, and services. Here, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, she shares her experience and the tools that have helped her manage her condition.

It is thought that I have had schizophrenia all of my life. It started off as shadowy figures at night originating from my bedroom closet. My parents would joke that I was seeing a ghost and called it "Mr. Blob Man." To be honest, I believe that they just thought that I was an over-imaginative kid who was scared of the dark and that nothing further was going on. In reality, though, I was showing early warning signs of schizophrenia.

My symptoms became more pronounced in high school and snowballed into college. I started seeing, hearing and feeling things that were not there. I hallucinate a clown very similar to the older adaptation of Steven King's IT along with other figures. It took me eight months after a suicide attempt in college to finally get the proper medical help that I needed due to the stigma. That decision saved my life.

The first time I heard the word 'schizophrenia' was from the TV show Criminal Minds. We need better mental health education for our youth especially since the media oftentimes uses conditions like schizophrenia for plot twist purposes or over-sensationalised depictions of our symptoms and often perpetuates negative harmful stereotypes that generate fear and stigma such as a person with schizophrenia must be violent. In reality, we are more likely to be an abuse victim rather than abuse. For example, I lived in an abuse shelter for part of high school.

Throughout the history of humanity, groups that are underrepresented get repeatedly taken advantage of, blamed, and marginalized. This is happening today with the community of people with psychosis. It is difficult living in a society where most people's perception of a person with schizophrenia is the fear-driven misrepresentation you often see in the media. It is difficult living in a society where many people's definition of "crazy" is aligned with the notion that hearing, feeling, seeing something that is not there or believing in something that is not true makes a person "crazy."

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IPS 2019 The Mental Health Services Conference. #StudentsWithSchizophrenia #IAmNotAMonsterSCHIZOPHRENIA #Schizophrenia #Schizoaffective #Psychosis #MentalHealth

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I see, hear, and feel things that are not there and live with scattered thoughts and paranoia, and that does not make me "crazy." The "crazy" label has weight. It says or makes you feel like your opinion does not matter. It makes you feel like less of a person. It makes you feel invisible and worthless.

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The world needs to recognize that people with psychosis are a community. And like most other underrepresented and misrepresented communities throughout history, we are used as the scapegoat in political debates because we lack representation. This is what is happening in the United States in the gun violence debate today. Enough is enough. #ImMentallyIllAndIDontKill . . . #IAmNotAMonsterSchizophrenia #StudentsWithSchizophrenia #Schizoaffective #Schizophrenia #MentalHealth #Psychosis #Enough

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Over five years ago as a freshman in college, I had my suicide attempt. I don't talk about it much in specifics, and I still don't want to. What I am willing to share though is the why. To me, education was everything. I grew up in a very turbulent family situation. Education was how I got control in a life where I felt like I had none. Education was both my escape from the present and a hope for a future. When my untreated schizophrenic symptoms got in the way of even reading a paragraph, doing a simple math equation, or even counting numbers in my head, then I felt like I had both lost my future and my mind. I needed medicine and support, but I was too scared to reach out due to the stigma.

I was told that if I opened up that it would not only impact me but also ruin my family's lives... So I made the decision that no one should have to make; I decided to take my own life rather than embarrass myself or my family. I wrote a long handwritten suicide note and everything.

I am so glad that I am still here five years later and not dead. Now, I am working my heart out with all the other wonderful people at Students With Schizophrenia to make a future where students who have schizophrenia feel empowered rather than hopeless.

When I opened up about having schizophrenia, I was relieved to learn that I was not alone. We really are a global community comprised of 1.1% of the world's population over the age of eighteen. Even some of my friends opened up to me that they have schizophrenia! Being open about schizophrenia and no longer having this secret that I was too ashamed of empowered me, and now I am trying to help empower others by founding the nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia.

We are also working towards a future to not only give them that hope but also the support and resources necessary to attaining those goals. I don't want anyone ever feeling that alone, scared, and hopeless as I did five years ago. Having schizophrenia is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it is certainly not a life sentence.

I am proud to be a student with schizophrenia.