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Synopsis

Against ignorance: the suppressed reality of mental illness and the consequences for those affected and their families by Carole Petcher & Raymond Petignat The widely held ignorance in the field of mental illnesses provided the major impulse that prompted the writing of this book. Most people are completely lacking in knowledge, although mental illnesses, in this case schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are really not as uncommon as many would like to believe. In our judgment, widespread information and education are desperately needed, also because our so-called “Opinion Leaders” often present this subject in completely the wrong light. When a spectacular case comes into the public spotlight, this ignorance, a hard but unfortunately justified word, is horrifyingly obvious even in the well-educated. This is apparent in television discussions and newspaper articles, where hypotheses and theories are quoted as indisputable truths. The general knowledge about diseases such as cancer, through AIDs to circulatory complications and malaria, is considerably greater than the understanding of the forms of mental illness. We would like to make the general public aware of the serious associated problems faced by families, to provide these families with our support and sympathy, to remind the media and the lawyers of their power that can be used for good or evil and to sensitise the psychiatric profession to the wider picture and the danger of dogmatism. In this vein, we are ambitious; only you can judge if we are over-ambitious. Although we touch on the subject of the obsessive-compulsive disorder, the main theme of our book concerns schizophrenia and manic-depression (bipolar disorder). These are serious but – and this may be a source of amazement to many – treatable illnesses, if the patient meets certain requirements and adequate resources are available. The stories that follow show that this is unfortunately not always the case, particularly when the picture is distorted by the idea of the family and environment as causative factors. It must also be said that immense steps have been achieved in the last twenty years with regard to the treatment of the patient and in the approach of the medical profession to the family. Schizophrenia, and this often goes unrecognised, is the most expensive illness of all, as it results in not only direct but also indirect costs, such as inability to work, pensions, financial support by the families. In summary, this book primarily confronts the often grim experiences of relatives with the inadequate knowledge of a major section of the broader population, concerning the existence of mental illnesses and the social problems involved. Secondly, it aims to provide some basic information on the current thinking about mental illness and to offer some practical advice on dealing with it. Thirdly it challenges the professional world with the still existing divisions between medical knowledge and everyday practice. Early diagnosis, with conscientious preliminary investigations, and the education of young parents in this field seem to us to be particularly necessary. In short, we do not aim to alleviate the situation of the relatives, but to improve the living conditions and perspectives of people that suffer from a serious mental illness. The equation is eminently simple: when this is achieved, the relatives will also benefit!

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