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Karen Steadman

This World Mental Health Day let's support life

Authors: Karen Steadman

10 October 2014

Many people with schizophrenia will recover and live normal lives. Today is about making sure this happens for more people. 

Although only a relatively small proportion of the population (estimated at 1%) experience the cluster of symptoms commonly known as schizophrenia, the condition can have a devastating affect on an individual’s life. Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, which affects people at a young age – often in their teens or early 20s, when they are at the cusp of independent living. Support for people with schizophrenia is often discussed in terms of the treatment or clinical interventions that work best for alleviating the clinical symptoms. Treating psychosis rapidly can dramatically improve patients’ chances of recovery, and providing timely access to good quality treatment is crucial. It was heartening therefore to hear Nick Clegg’s announcement earlier this week that access to early intervention in psychosis services is to be improved (as called for previously by the Schizophrenia Commission and The Work Foundation). This is excellent news and will hopefully improve clinical recovery for many. 

Recovery however, is about more than just the reduction of clinical symptoms. During our recent research on schizophrenia, conducted in the UK and Germany, we asked people with lived experience what being recovered meant to them. As one German participant explained:    

Being recovered means to take part in life again, not to be isolated, having active friendships and people visiting and meeting up with friends and also to be able to perform in a job and to have a positive perspective on life.  On this World Mental Health Day, we draw attention to the importance of supporting people with schizophrenia to take part in life. 

Our research highlighted social inclusion and in particular employment as being integral parts of living a recovered life for people with schizophrenia. All participants with lived experience that we spoke to discussed the importance of work, with many seeing it as a key marker of their recovery. As described below:

Work would of course be another step to feeling more recovered. If you’re in work you would always feel more recovered and normal.     

Work? For me it’s waking up in the morning. Work for me is doing something that you enjoy, because when you enjoy something, no matter how tired you are, you will get up and do it. 

More than just being a marker of recovery, participants described the experience of working as improving their health – effectively acting as treatment. 

My health was a lot better then, it was a lot better, because I was doing a job that I was enjoying, obviously my health had improved. 

Such findings were the driving force behind the push for increased recognition of employment as a health outcome for people in secondary mental health services (as now recognised in the CCG Outcomes Indicator Set. This is another positive development – but there is still more to be done. 

Closer ties are needed between health and employment support services, and there must be still greater recognition of the importance of work at each stage of the health and social care pathway. We need to increase access to evidenced-based employment services (see the IPS supported employment model) which have been shown to improve employment outcomes for people with mental health conditions.  Robust measurement and reporting on employment outcomes will allow us to better ascertain what factors contribute to recovery, and make the case for their improvement. We have to educate and support employers so having a mental health condition is no longer viewed as a reason not to employ someone. Finally, we must shift focus onto what we can do to support recovery - to support those who live with schizophrenia, to really live with schizophrenia.  

Let's keep the momentum going on this world mental health day, let’s support life.