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The article that started it all

In January 1985, Helen Martin published an article, ‘Schizophrenia – suffering in silence’, in the Living and Arts section of the Courier Mail.

The article provided brief insight into a very unknown and misunderstood illness, and called for people interested in forming a Queensland branch of the then, Australian Schizophrenia Fellowship, to come together and inspire systemic change.

Over thirty years, many things have changed, including how we speak about mental illness and the people who experience it, and the medical advances in understanding the illness, its causes and treatment options. Other things continue to change but at a much slower pace – attitudes towards people living with mental illness and societal understanding on the facts of mental illness.

We are committed to continuing the work of our founding members and those intricately linked to our history, and igniting acceptance, change and understanding.

This is the article as it was published in 1985......

A young Brisbane schizophrenic drove 1,000 km a week in a desperate attempt to stop ‘the voices’. He thought enemies were hiding behind trees and believed he had magical powers. His family could do little to ease his distress. During one bout of schizophrenia he thought he was Gold. On another occasion he believed a song had been written about him. He could not hold a conversation for more than a few seconds.

Psychiatrists estimate one person in a hundred suffers from schizophrenia at some time in their lives, but still there is no support organisation operating in Brisbane especially for schizophrenics and their families. To increase awareness of the illness and help sufferers and their families, Mrs Pauline Jillett of Kingston and Mrs Debbie Fawcett of Camp Hill are rallying to form a Brisbane branch of the Australian Schizophrenia Fellowship. A branch already exists in Rockhampton. The women have enlisted the support of the Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd managing director and Children’s Hospital Appeal Committee Chairman, Sir Reginald Leonard, the Federal Member for Lilley, Elaine Darling, barrister Des Sturgess, the former Federal Member for Moreton Sir James Killen, and civil liberties advocate Terry O’Gorman.

Contrary to the popular Hollywood myth, schizophrenia does not mean a split personality and in most cases, one could not distinguish schizophrenia sufferers unless they were acutely ill and talking to themselves or looking frightened. Schizophrenia is characterised by a chemical imbalance in the body, hallucinations and delusions. And most medical authorities agree schizophrenia involves genetics and body chemistry, with environment having an influence in the course of the illness. Schizophrenia can be very frightening and debilitating for sufferers. According to a Brisbane psychiatrist, the side effects from therapeutic drugs in a minority of cases can be severe, causing involuntary facial twitching, and tongue movements. But in other sufferers, the bouts of illness are very mild with some only ever having one episode and leading otherwise normal lives with treatment.

Mrs Jillett said many people wrongly believed the movie myths that all schizophrenics were psychotic killers with split personalities. She said a social stigma was still attached to schizophrenia and that many sufferers would not tell people they had the illness for fear of rejection.

 “It would be unlikely you’d get a job if you told the boss you were schizophrenic,” she said.

Mrs Fawcett said that the Fellowship wanted to hear from employers willing to give schizophrenics a chance. She said improved community care facilities; especially accommodation for ex-patients was needed.

“Whether it is a child or a spouse who develops schizophrenia, the effects will disrupt ordinary family life and family relationships will be strained to the limit.

“Where a spouse develops the illness he and she may become like a different person, insensitive to other’s needs, unable to cope with ordinary responsibility, unable to make decisions, unable to work well enough to keep things ticking over and a source of uncertainty in social situations.

“The full destructive power of schizophrenia over a family is fully intelligible only to those who have been through it.”

She said the Fellowship wanted to dispel ignorance existing about the illness and to encourage research into causes and cures. Mrs Fawcett said the legal and civil rights of schizophrenia needed to be safeguarded.

According to a Brisbane psychiatrist, it was important to thoroughly assess people who had committed crimes to make sure no mental illness existed. He said the new Mental Health Bill would help to achieve this. A spokesman for the State Health Minister, Mr Austin, said there was a trend away from institutional care in the treatment of mental illness except in chronic acute cases. Over the past ten years the number of long-term patients annually admitted to Wolston Park, the state’s largest mental hospital dropped from 1200 to 150. He said he preferred treatment involved family and community-based care.

“We are in the process of expanding community-based mental health facilities to provide both in and out-patient services,” he said.

Doctors, psychiatric nurses, social workers, schizophrenics, their families and others interested in forming a branch of the Australian Schizophrenia Fellowship can contact Mrs Jillett or Mrs Fawcett.