What colour is schizophrenia?

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Sometimes the health advocacy world feels like an elite club.  Psychotic conditions are excluded from membership – no colours, no ribbons, no champions and no campaign.  If there is an awareness campaign, its nigh on invisible in Australia.  Is schizophrenia still locked in the attic?

Look around and you’ll see that community groups in Australia often use vibrant colours in their titles, logos and ribbons.  A colourful campaign can raise awareness, mould community perceptions and boost funding.   Colour can lead to instant identification.  A pink shade has been adopted by breast cancer groups and daffodil yellow by state cancer groups.  AIDS groups rely on a brilliant shade of red.   Lupus has purple and MS orange.

And what of mental health, you ask.  Well, with or two exceptions – One Wave’s ‘Fleuro Friday’ and headspace’s green livery – no bright colours light up this group of conditions.  Instead, brooding blues and blacks are usually identified with depression, e.g. the Black Dog Institute and beyondblue.  But I can’t help wondering, what colour is schizophrenia?

Of course, it’s not just colours.  Community health branding is boosted by champions, often themselves fellow sufferers or related to one.  Celebrity champions range from Jeff Kennett for depression to Osher Gunsberg for OCD.  But I’m not talking here about celebrity selfies: schizophrenia champion the late Anne Deveson pioneered mental health advocacy in Australia.  Where are the champions of today?

Colours and champions aren’t the only way to maintain momentum.  The name of the advocacy group itself can signal positive messages.

Mixing upper and lower case gives a modern touch; punctuation also helps.  While names are often pithy, ‘institute’ or ‘research’ can add gravitas eg the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the more flirty NeuRA.  Some groups use ‘head’ to reflect the mental health sphere, others use positive modifiers eg Heads Up, Reach Out and Way Ahead.  ‘Space’ may connote security and refuge eg Headspace.  The clunky Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW was re-born in 2017 as One Door.  And SANE Australia, formerly the Schizophrenia Australia Foundation, now claims its mirror opposite – sanity.

Do psychotic conditions have a dedicated campaign?  I haven’t found any yet.  Sure, they sometimes have a presence within the mental health club grounds.  But it can be hard to spot.  What ribbon does psychosis wear?

Perhaps to avoid discrimination, advocacy groups don’t differentiate between conditions: in terms of on-line presence, exam stress is up there with bipolar.  Perhaps youth-oriented groups seek to cover the field of anxiety triggers – are you bothered by acne?  Hallucinations?  Is it because ‘mental health’ is increasingly conflated with wellness/mindfulness movements?  Is it because the term ‘schizophrenia’ is falling out of favour as it may encompass several disorders?  Or is it because some psychiatric disorders are low prestige, simply not respectable?

Shielding the severest mental disorders deep inside the club feeds stigma and comes at the cost of profile.  While awareness campaigns should not soak up scarce public funding, and are no substitute for medical assistance, high-profile champions and refined branding can drive change, deepen understanding and reduce stigma.

To me, it just looks like psycho-shaming.

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