Stigma and discrimination is a constant and unfortunate experience for individuals living with a mental illness. Those who live with an illness that is outwardly noticeable, either visually or auditory are often stared at, avoided, made fun of or harassed. Positive psychotic symptoms are described as symptoms, which add something to an individual’s personality or sense of being. These include hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thought.
When was the last time you saw a person on the street corner talking to themselves, and you crossed the street to avoid them? Did you know that they see you? Did you know that they know you’re avoiding them and that you are afraid of them?
Did you also know that these individuals are discriminated against even within the mental health system?
Many mental health professionals in the community refuse to take patients who are experiencing such extreme positive symptoms. Many aren’t trained to support people with these symptoms, some might not think they are capable of helping these people, others are even afraid of them.
Even more surprising is that these individuals are discriminated against by their own peers. In mental health therapy groups, there is often an array of individuals experiencing many different mental illnesses and symptoms. Individuals experiencing positive symptoms are often seen as the ‘crazy’ ones of the group and their comments or outbursts often ignored or made fun of. These are the individuals who have the most difficulty relating and making relationships with their peers. Lacking in the community and peer support aspect that most of these groups are built upon.
Individuals experiencing hallucinations and delusions need their own safe place to get support and build community. They need a space where speaking about the voices they hear, or the images that they see, isn’t gawked at or commented about. Communities of support, where everyone can learn from one another, support one another, and remind each other that no one is alone.
Many individuals living with a psychotic disorder have jobs, families, friends and hobbies. These individuals are successful for many reasons; Medication, support, education, personal strength, luck and much more. Unfortunately, the majority of patients do not experience a total elimination of positive symptoms when they are being treated. Many have to learn the tools to deal with day-to-day life, while they are hearing voices or experiencing other positive symptoms.
For people who are just starting out with a psychotic illness, or haven’t been diagnosed yet but are experiencing consistent positive symptoms, they need to build their toolbox to learn to cope. For people who have been experiencing psychosis for a long period of time, but have just gained insight into their symptoms, they need a space to learn about their illness and what they need to know to increase their wellbeing.
Having a safe, supportive, community learning environment for individuals living with positive symptoms is a gap that must be filled. On an equally as important level, individuals working and living within the mental health community need to build their knowledge and competency around working with positive symptoms and how to support those who experience them.
It cannot be stressed enough that our community members who are living with positive symptoms are not individuals to fear, but individuals who need our support. And if support isn’t starting within the mental health system and within their peer group, what hope do they have?