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Schizophrenia and the Right to Dignity

Schizophrenia is a known mental disorder affecting just under 1 percent of people in the United States. Meanwhile, around the world, there are about 20 million people who have this chronic mental disorder.

Hallucinations and delusions are notable among individuals with schizophrenia. Experts observe that people with schizophrenia have distortions in perception, thinking, speech, and behavior. This disorder is associated with impaired abilities that affect how an individual performs at work or in school. People with schizophrenia have a 20–30% higher early mortality rate. This statistic is likely because a person with schizophrenia may not fully articulate what they are feeling. Infections, metabolic diseases, and cardiovascular diseases are common causes of death by disease among people with schizophrenia.

According to the World Health Organization, people with schizophrenia are vulnerable, prone to stigma and human rights violations. Such societal behavior toward those afflicted propagates discrimination against the said class, resulting in limited access to healthcare, housing, employment, or education.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

In its active state, schizophrenia is marked by an inability to tell reality from the imagined. The schizophrenic episodes might vary in duration or frequency, depending on the severity of the disease. Alcohol or drug intake, non-medication, and stressful situations are common triggers for schizophrenic episodes. Mental health advocates categorize symptoms of schizophrenia as the following:

  • Disorganized Symptoms: Confused thinking, disordered speech, irrational logic, bizarre movements or irregular behavior.
  • Positive Symptoms: Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not real), paranoia, distorted behavior, belief, and perception.
  • Negative Symptoms: Inability or decreased inability to speak, make plans, or express feelings.

Schizophrenia bears effects on a person’s cognitive functions. Persons with schizophrenia often find concentrating, paying attention, and memory difficulties, likely contributing to a notable decline in educational performance. Other more subtle signs may manifest sooner in life, such as problematic relationships or feelings of demotivation.

Early schizophrenia symptoms typically manifest during young adulthood and should persist for about six months before any health professional can officially diagnose a patient correctly. Before confirming the diagnosis, a psychiatrist will order an intensive battery of tests or observations to rule out possible neurological or underlying medical conditions and substance abuse.

Rights of People with Schizophrenia


The United Nations put forth these basic principles that protect the fundamental freedoms of people with mental illness:

  • Everyone has the right to access the best mental health care available.
  • All people with mental illness must be treated with dignity and respect.
  • People with mental illness should not be discriminated against. They shall not be exempted from the equal enjoyment of human rights.
  • People with mental illness reserves the right to exercise all economic, social, civil, cultural, political rights as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant declarations.
  • People with mental illness have the right to counsel or be represented by a legal custodian who will act in the patient’s best interest should the individual be incapacitated to make decisions for the self.

Health Care Management of Schizophrenia in the Community

Schizophrenia is a treatable disorder. Facilities might follow treatment with medication and making psychosocial support available to the patient.

The WHO states that there is evidence that traditional mental hospitals are not only ineffective in providing treatment for people with mental disorders but that these institutions commit violations against their patients’ fundamental human rights. The organization believes that there is a need for expanded efforts to transition mental health care from such institutions and into the community. The global health organization maintains that engaged social support is critical in treating patients with mental health disorders. Here are ways local government agencies can address this mental health disorder:

  • Adequate training for all primary healthcare personnel
  • Access to medication
  • Social support for families of mental health patients in-home care
  • Public education to address ingrained stigma and discrimination
  • Promote patient-centered recovery interventions by way of social and life skills training for individuals with schizophrenia and their families
  • Facilitate independent or assisted living by providing access to supported employment and socialized housing for individuals with schizophrenia

People who continuously suffer from schizophrenia or other mental illnesses have the right to fair treatment. These individuals are entitled to respect and dignity, which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not only recognizes but is one of the fundamental principles of social Catholic teaching.

People with schizophrenia have the right to privacy protection, access to culturally sensitive services, best available treatment, and healthcare equality. Not only are governments responsible for this concern, but the wider community needs to take an active role in treating individuals suffering from this disorder.

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