Living with Schizophrenia: A Statement from Dr. Matt Muijen, Regional Programme Manager

The 10th of October is World Mental Health Day, and every year a theme is selected by the World Federation for Mental Health. This year’s is ‘Living with Schizophrenia’. It is supported by a publication that highlights the many aspects of this time, such as the personal suffering and stigma associated with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the family experience and evidence for new treatment opportunities. Importantly, it powerfully makes the case that a diagnosis of schizophrenia no longer should be associated with life long suffering and deterioration, and the impossibility to hope for a decent life, able to meet one’s associations.  Instead, we now know that many people once diagnosed with schizophrenia continue to live full lives according to their aspirations.

Schizophrenia is still a condition powerfully associated with all that is wrong about people’s perception of mental illness: untreatable, dangerous and hopeless. Many people with schizophrenia can tell terrifying stories of mistreatment, lack of respect, neglect and discrimination. Some examples are given in the case studies. It would be naïve to believe that people with schizophrenia are exceptional in these experiences. Sadly, many people suffering from other mental health conditions share these experiences. But tackling the stigma of schizophrenia and change attitudes and expectations will also benefit attitudes towards mental health problems as a whole. WHO believes strongly that every person with a mental health problem, whatever mental health problem, has a right to the same opportunities as everyone else in every aspect of their life.

The right of people to live a life and receive mental health services informed by a person’s individual needs and aspirations is central to the vision of the European Mental Health Action Plan that was endorsed by all countries in Europe. Mental health services, as stated in objective 2, are no longer merely offering treatment, but are now expected to “create opportunities that empower people with mental health problems to make use of their own assets, and to participate fully in community life in ways they would choose and to which they are entitled”. In other words, mental health services should be reformed to offer a comprehensive set of services that are rights based, and are inspired by the needs and hopes of the person, irrespective of diagnosis or disability. They are about fostering hope and inspiring personal achievement.

Other objectives of the Action Plan support this central value of empowerment and equality. Governments need to take actions that protect wellbeing and strengthen resilience of all individuals, but proportionate to the need of the individual. Services should be accessible, competent and affordable for everyone, and treatment has to be respectful, safe and effective. Emphasis is given to steps necessary to prevent the early death of people with schizophrenia, and the stigma and neglect they can suffer in general health care.

All these objectives have been endorsed by our Member States, and we are working with many of them towards reforming their mental health services. We are also working in close partnership with patient and family organizations as well as professional and expert groups on such person centred and integrated services. There is still a long way to go in many countries, but the acceptance of the need for change is there. World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity for awareness raising, but the hard work has to continue, all year around.


Dr Matt Muijen, Programme Manager, Noncommunicable diseases and life-course, on World Mental Health Day 2014