Students across the country are learning to put a human face to schizophrenia â€“ perhaps the most misunderstood mental illness â€“ with a program called Reaching Out.
Using in-class activities, Web links and role-playing scenarios, young people learn the early warning signs of schizophrenia so they know when to seek help for themselves, their peers or family members.
Many young people in the early stages of schizophrenia, which typically strikes between the ages of 15 and 25, are misdiagnosed as just moody teens. Often their parents don't take action for fear of overreacting to symptoms that, unlike those of a broken arm, are intangible.
Reaching Out â€“ which was developed with the support of the Canadian Teachers' Federation, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Counsellors Association â€“ helps dispel myths surrounding schizophrenia. Students are taught, for example, that schizophrenia is a medical condition that cannot be prevented and is nobody's fault. One of the unique aspects of the program is a docudrama video that features individuals who are successfully living with schizophrenia.
Reaching Out is the first national program of its kind directed at teenagers. And it's being used outside Canada, too, including the Netherlands and Greece, says Fred Dawe, national president of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and the father of a child with schizophrenia.
Information on the program is accessible on the Internet at www.schizophrenia.ca.