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May 15

TIPS Project: When Attitudes Affect Actions

In the United States, schizophrenia is something that we fear. Ignore. Avoid. When we think of schizophrenia, our first thought jumps to an image of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Time and time again, the media portrays individuals with schizophrenia as crazy, violent, and dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Ask any American kid about cancer, and they can give you a response. But asking them what they know about schizophrenia? That’s another story. Psychology classes notwithstanding, schizophrenia is not a subject that is taught in American schools. The only information that the average American gains about schizophrenia is through media portrayals that can be found in books, movies, and on the television. One country decided to change the ways in which they viewed schizophrenia, and got it right.
The TIPS Project started in Norway in 1997. The main goal of the project was to address issues of

schizophrenia awareness in Norway, and to make the general population more comfortable with the notion of mental disorders. Their tool? The media. Especially printed media. A massive information campaign was started in the country. Brochures were distributed to every household, leaflets listing the symptoms of schizophrenia were given to educators and general practitioners, and public awareness advertisements were placed in popular newspapers and magazines.

 

The TIPS Project addressed two major issues regarding schizophrenia, that we in the United States have been ignoring for years. First, is the idea of stigma. Stigma is not simply a social concept, but rather an influential entity that has very real, and very visible consequences. In most countries in the world, the United States included, schizophrenia is often thought to be an unacceptable medical condition. Close family members and friends will ignore the warning signs (if they even know them in the first place) and instead say that the individual “was born like this”, or “will just snap out of it”.  Due to both ignorance and stigma, help is not received in time.  The problem with schizophrenia, like most other medical conditions, is that with increased time before diagnosis comes a worse prognosis. In the words of a UCLA psychiatrist, Tyrone Cannon, “We just don’t have the cures for these illnesses once they’ve fully ?taken hold.” Acting promptly is key for the patient, the family, and society as a whole.


Next, the TIPS Project combated the problem of simple ignorance concerning schizophrenia. The media campaign was run country-wide in Norway, educating the general population how to spot schizophrenia in a family member, friend, or coworker. The project worked with those who often came in contact with individuals in the risk group such as general practitioners, specialists, teachers, coaches, and religious figures. Children were educated about the mental illness through a school campaign that ran every year.What got me thinking about all of this was in my Mental Health Psychology class while studying abroad in Milan, Italy last semester. Upon teaching us about the TIPS Project, my teacher asked us if we had any similar programs run in the United States. No one answered. Then, she asked what we were taught back in elementary or high school concerning schizophrenia. No one answered once again. She looked slowly around the classroom, shocked by the response.Only with a change in attitudes can there be a change in actions. When the general public gains an increased knowledge of mental illness, early detection becomes a tangible possibility. With early detection, there are fewer lasting hospitalizations, which lead to lower healthcare costs and increased clinical benefits. Schizophrenia is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to detect and treat in the entire world. On average, the worldwide DUP (duration of untreated psychosis) for an individual is around 2 years due to lack of knowledge and stigma. Following the TIPS Project, Norway’s decreased to 6 months.It’s about de-stigmatization. It’s about attention. It’s about awareness.It’s about time that we learned that a little awareness goes a long way.

To view an example of the information shared through the TIPS Project please use this link.
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