Schizophrenia: Twice As Common As HIV/AIDS

Armen Hareyan's picture

Twice as many Americans live with schizophrenia than with HIV/AIDS, but a major report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reveals most Americans are unfamiliar with the disease.

"Americans are not sure what to think about schizophrenia," said NAMI executive director Mike Fitzpatrick. "They know schizophrenia is a medical illness affecting the brain, but it is largely misunderstood. There are gaps in knowledge -- and access to treatment. Misinformation, misperceptions, and misunderstanding represent a public health crisis."

The report is available at . It is based on a survey conducted by Harris Interactive among the general public, caregivers and individuals living with schizophrenia.

Approximately two million Americans live with schizophrenia. Two-thirds do not receive treatment, even though the disease can be managed successfully.

The survey found the average age at onset was 21, but a nine-year gap exists between symptoms and treatment.

-- 85% of Americans recognize schizophrenia as an illness, 79% believe that with treatment, people with the diagnosis can lead independent lives, but only 24% are familiar with it. Many cannot recognize symptoms or mistakenly believe they include "split" or multiple personalities (64%).

-- 79% want friends to tell them if they have schizophrenia, but only 46% say they would themselves. Even with treatment, 49% are uncomfortable with the prospect of dating a person with schizophrenia.


-- Among people living with schizophrenia, 49% said doctors take their medical problems less seriously, even though the report notes that the death rate from causes like heart disease or diabetes is 2-3 times that of the general population.

-- A vast majority believe that better medications (96%) and health insurance (82%) would be most helpful to improving their condition, -- Caregivers agree better medications are needed. Approximately 80% have difficulty getting services for loved ones, 63% have difficulty finding time for themselves, and 41% have provided care for more than 10 years.

"We know what to do to increase recovery, but it requires public support, which depends on public attitudes," Fitzpatrick said.

The report offers five recommendations:

-- Public education

-- Closing the gap between symptoms and treatment

-- A welcoming healthcare system

-- Education and support for caregivers and individuals living with the illness

-- Greater investment in medical research