I had never been seriously mentally ill before, although I had suffered from depression since the age of eight. My family found it hard to talk about feelings and I never communicated well with my parents. The attack happened after a bout of depression. I had been finding it hard to concentrate at work, I wasn't eating properly, would hardly talk to anyone - the usual symptoms of depression. Then I started hearing voices that seemed to come from outside my head. They began tormenting me, telling I was evil, that I would be better off dead. They were male and female voices who would talk about me and to me, sometimes, jeering and laughing. It sounds bizarre, but it doesn't occur to you that it is your mind playing tricks. In the end I couldn't stand it. I took an overdose of antidepressants to blot them out. I spent a week in our local psychiatric hospital as a voluntary patient. Schizophrenia was eventually diagnosed. It was a relief to know what it was. There are lots of symptoms of schizophrenia, such as being withdrawn, unmotivated and not caring about your appearance. But the most well-known ones are hearing voices and having delusions. Hearing voices is when you experience your thoughts as if they are coming from outside your head. Delusions are when you have a fixed belief in something, even though common sense tells you it can't be true. Your brain and reason lose track of each other. The worst aspect of schizophrenia is the danger it can put you in. I went through a stage of blacking out and finding myself in horrifying situations. The police are more aware of mental illness these days, so if they find me wandering around they take me straight to the local hospital. Being thrown in a cell and handcuffed made me feel terribly humiliated. Only one time I have ever tried to hurt someone else. Most of the time my anger and confusion are directed inwards. I had cut my wrists or carve the word Evil into my arms because the voices were telling me to. Because of the state I was in it didn't hurt, and in a way it seemed to relieve some of the unbearable pressure. People often believe, mistakenly, that everyone who suffers from schizophrenia is violent. Although some are, the majority would never be violent to anyone other than themselves. I have tried to commit suicide several times, sometimes because I don't know what I am doing and other times because I am fed up with feeling like this. Ten per cent of schizophrenics commit suicide. I have discovered my illness goes through phases, which helps. I don't always know what it sparks it off. I am better at recognising when an attack is coming on and take myself to hospital before I do anything stupid. Stress can also be a trigger. I see a psychiatrist who prescribes me Sulpiride - a sedative used to control acute hallucinations and delusions, which makes me feel as though I am experiencing everything through cotton wool. Louise, my social worker, has been a great help. I am proud that I have struck to it and it is helping to restore my self-esteem. I am able to lead a fairly normal life. Many people with schizophrenia become isolated and this makes them withdraw into themselves even more. I know people whose schizophrenia has burned itself out by their forties and at the moment I am clinging to the hope that I might be one of those.

Sarah had always suffered from depression on and off, so I was used to her being moody. For several weeks she had been acting strangely - being withdrawn, confused and talking to herself. Looking back I should have noticed. But I was wrapped up in my work. I decided the best thing was to be as supportive as possible. I thought it would blow over, but it wasn't until six months later that schizophrenia was diagnosed. I knew that, chemically, people with schizophrenia are thought to have excess dopamine receptors in their brain ( a protein allowing messages to travel around the brain) and that this is reduced by taking antipsychotic drugs. No one knows exactly what causes it, although there is a genetic link, and environmental factors seem to play a role. But no one in either of our families had suffered from mental illness, so I didn't know what to expect. In the beginning I clung to the hope that it was just a passing phase and that Sarah would soon recover. She was readmitted. That was the start of a cycle of behaviour common in schizophrenics, where they are better for a while, then suffer a relapse and end up in hospital again. Sarah's illness seemed to bring new and increasingly bizarre behaviour with every turn. Obviously the suicide attempts were distressing, she wandered the streets for hours in a confused state. If I knew she was ill I was happy for her to be sectioned, which meant she had to be forcibly kept in hospital. Knowing Sarah could die any day made me realise what mattered in life. To have Sarah healthy was more important to me than any glories at work. She was withdrawn and drinking seemed to be the only way to blot out the voices. Coping with her disability means their lives have been limited. At the moment we don't want children because Sarah might become ill and not be able to look after them. They would also have a 15 per cent chance of developing the illness. Anyway, we have found we can put that extra energy into supporting mental health campaigns. Since Sarah's been ill I have developed strong ideas on the subject. I think everyone needs to be better educated about mental illness. People should realise that mentally ill people are human beings. Sarah is a person, not an illness.

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