By Jamie Lewis
Schizophrenia; if you think it's all multiple personalities and murderous whispering in one's mind, you're severely misinformed.
The stigma and fear involved when someone mentions schizophrenia in this country, and indeed, around the world is shocking. Let's not forget that people suffering with schizophrenia are human beings. Let's not forget that they are suffering with a serious mental health condition - of which most are living capably.
With only a Google search, I began interacting with people who have a multitude of mental health illnesses and this will be the first in a series of interviews.
Ben was diagnosed with schizophrenia back in 2008; in talking to me he was called an "attention whore" by voices in his mind and is concerned someone will read this interview and "watch his brain feed".
The 22-year-old from Willoughby, Ohio, is clearly an intellectual man, his diction is near-perfect and his descriptive language is first class.
"My schizophrenia is like a broadcast," he explains. "Imagine going to a website like twitch.tv and watching somebody play a video game. They show what game they're playing and they talk over it."
"In terms of what I believe it is - aside from a chemical imbalance - is that someone, at some point in the future or in some religious form, is watching me live my life through my eyes and through my mind."
Ben is not dangerous, nor is he what some people might imagine he would be based on preconceptions taken from films. He hears voices which damage his self-esteem, motivation and determination.
That's the condition these people dealing with.
"On TV, it's a sea of whispering voices that slowly drive somebody to murder.Or, it's a voice they trust that guides them to murder someone."
"Most people think schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are the same thing. Films and television shows which depict a character suffering from schizophrenia being tormented into killing loved ones isn't exactly how it works.
"Something TV shows get right is that the voices play on your insecurities. I think that's because you're dwelling on them and you form a second thought process dedicated to it. It's like a sticky note of your paranoia.
"I'm not saying the voices can't be convincing at times, but I know right from wrong."
Violence is often falsely correlated with schizophrenia and as a result many people consider those diagnosed to be extremely volatile. However, a recent study shows that only one person with a serious mental health problem committed a violent crime per every 14 million people per year. Yet a recent poll by Rethink shows that 44% of people expect someone with a serious mental health problem to be violent.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness asks the public to consider the statistics when making these assumptions: "When talking about violence and severe mental illness, it's important to remember that these incidents are extremely rare. Every one of us knows someone who has a mental illness.
Jenkins added: "The vast majority of people with a mental illness live ordinary lives and are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators."
It claimed that 5.3% of the general population had committed at least one violent crime. Of the schizophrenics they spoke to only 8.5% had one violent offence.
The figure only rose to 13.2% when it included those who regularly take recreational drugs.
This can be excused when you consider the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) reported that 69% of people arrested for violent crimes in the late 90s were tested positive for at least one illicit drug.
On bad days, any mental health sufferer can fail to see logic and give in to the pressures of their illness but to Ben this means something entirely different.
"We're making developments in brain scan technology, but right now, it's nowhere useable in a streaming sense," he said.
"I know scientists at Berkeley have technology that lets us view movies we've seen from our brain, but they're not up to 'watch your own dream' level yet"
"This is on the building blocks now, but in my mind, this technology is real and it's in use unjustly."
In hope of further explanation, I asked him what talking to a journalist about his condition felt like: "It feels weird," he replied.
"I feel like a guinea pig for all this brain scanning technology, so I've always thought about how those 'scientists' got my name in the first place. Maybe they got it through this interview. Maybe randomly.
"I don't mind people who are alive now asking about schizophrenia. They're curious and they have questions they want answers to. We all do.
"However, I don't support some curious scientist in the future watching a schizophrenics
mind to learn about the disease."
Ben admits he's "spoiled" on the idea that people are tuned in to his thoughts and toys with the idea that these people could be scientists of some description using mind-reading technology from the future.
Ben's motivation for speaking to me was entirely pure, I felt as though he did sincerely want to help sufferers who might be reading this article.
"Personally, I think I'm going to help people understand what schizophrenia is, so that's all that matters.
Schizophrenics are notoriously troubled by commitment; they often struggle to settle in to a regular working cycle. Ben is no different and told me he quit his most recent job, not because he was unable or lazy but because he was concerned he was creating a negative working environment.
"I quit because of my job because of paranoia. Not only that, but I quit during my shift. I thought I was making people really uncomfortable. Like I had a bad aura or something."
Not all diagnosed schizophrenics hear voices, the American Psychiatric Association require two of the following symptoms for at least one month to label someone with an official diagnosis:
Delusions; Hallucinations (auditory or visual); disorganised speech; grossly disorganised behaviour; negative symptoms, which consist of: lack of emotional response; decline in speech; decline in motivation.
I was desperate to know more about the voices Ben heard, what did they say?Are they hostile? Encouraging? Manipulating?
"They've been all of the above at times. I've been berated, praised, mocked, defended and a lot of other things.
"I think my emotions just fill in the blanks and bring out whatever I'm sub-consciously thinking. I guess the easiest way I could answer the "what do they say" question is with this: Whatever emotion I'm currently feeling, the voices are the opposite."
Mental health in general brings with it a stigma, but conditions like depression and anxiety hold nowhere near the negative press schizophrenia receives.
I asked Ben what he thinks people might think of him and his condition, his reply was inspiring.
"They probably think I'm crazy or that they have to step on eggshells around me. They probably would view or think of someone differently if they had schizophrenia.
"The average age to get schizophrenia is 18, and that's when I noticed I had it.Before then, I was a regular, everyday normal guy.
"Four years later, I'd still say the same thing. I just have another quirk to add to the list. We all have them, and it fuels how we view the world. Regular people can have a lot of things wrong with them and still be regular.
"I like to think about it like this: Everyone is weird. If you're not weird, that's weird, so, you're weird no matter what you do.
"We all have circumstances growing up. Before schizophrenia, I was depressed and overweight. Now, I'm skinnier and I'm not as depressed. If I can give any advice in the world, it's keep on keeping on. That's been my mantra for a while now."
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