As a student with schizoaffective disorder (a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder), to say college has been tough for me would be an understatement. I’ve been to three different colleges over the past 5 years, and I still haven’t graduated because of my symptoms. My illness began way before I started college, though.
I started seeing things in fifth grade, but I didn’t dare tell anyone. The delusions didn’t come until much later. For example, in late high school, I grew suspicious of my friends, paranoid and moody. After losing a good chunk of my friend group because of my behavior, I went off to college with my boyfriend (whom I secretly thought was a robot). That’s only the tip of the iceberg, of course.
Navigating College With Symptoms of Schizophrenia
After years of keeping my private world to myself, it all became too much to handle during my sophomore year of college at The University of Georgia. With the demands of school, living on my own, and keeping a part-time job, I crumbled. After trying to get help, the UGA counseling center sent me away because they didn’t have enough room. I met with a psychiatrist, deciding that I needed to be brave and tell the truth after years of hiding my symptoms.
The Only Nonprofit Focused On Empowering College Students Who Have Schizophrenia
She diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, and I was hospitalized for psychosis a few weeks later. That was four years ago. I have been stable for a year, and I am back in college surely but slowly making my way toward graduation. It has been hard, and I have felt like giving up so many times. I feel alone a lot of the time. There are not many organizations out there, especially those that focus on symptoms of schizophrenia. That’s why when I heard about the upcoming nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia, I was so excited and honestly, relieved to know that there is an organization specifically focused on helping those of us in the schizophrenia community.
I reached out to the founder and CEO, Cecilia McGough, for an interview. Students With Schizophrenia is “the only organization worldwide focused on empowering college students who have schizophrenia.” I was lucky enough to chat with her and learn more about this upcoming nonprofit.
You can read the interview with the founder below:
What inspired you to found Students with Schizophrenia?
It has been thought of that I have had schizophrenia all of my life. However, my schizophrenia became more prevalent during my junior and senior year of high school and sort of snowballed into college. The symptoms of my schizophrenia and accompanying mental illnesses started to get in the way of my education. After being officially diagnosed with my schizophrenia during my sophomore year of college, I started to research resources that can help me and my education because I still struggled with schizophrenic symptoms even after medication.
I was shocked actually that there was not already an organization out there focused on empowering college students who have schizophrenia especially since the peak age to have a schizophrenic break is early adulthood, the same age range as the typical college student. After some time, I decided to do something about this by founding the nonprofit Students With Schizophrenia to empower college students who have schizophrenia and their families globally.”
How does being diagnosed with schizophrenia make it harder for college students to succeed?
The National Education Association reports that “47% of adults living with schizophrenia drop out of college.”
This drastically limits the career options of a person who has schizophrenia and their financial contribution to society with unemployment rates varying but seen as high as 20%. Each person’s experience and story with schizophrenia is unique. Schizophrenia has a wide variety of both positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms do not mean that these symptoms are necessarily pleasant but rather means that these symptoms are added to or distorts the individual’s functions such as hallucinations, delusions, and/or scattered or racing thoughts. As with the negative symptoms, these are symptoms that are taking attributes away from the individual’s functions such as a lack of motivation, isolation, and the inability to plan and follow through on tasks.
These are but a few of the types of positive and negative symptoms. With that said, both positive and negative symptoms can make it difficult to impossible for a student who has schizophrenia to complete their education in a traditional school setting. However, with the correct amount of both medical and academic assistance, the student’s ability to complete their education increases substantially, and it is Students With Schizophrenia’s purpose to either direct resources or supply this assistance to those in need.
How will your organization help college students with schizophrenia?
Students With Schizophrenia is a nonprofit that will empower college students who have schizophrenia and their families globally through support, outreach, and services. Support efforts are not meant to replace direct professional mental health care or legal advising but rather serve for both mental health and legal resource direction and educational purposes. Students With Schizophrenia’s outreach will help:
- Spread awareness
- Create communities by founding clubs on college campuses, partnering with organizations, and sponsoring independent events.
Students With Schizophrenia’s services will focus on financial, academic, and career assistance for students who have schizophrenia and their families.
Is there anything you’d like to say to current college students diagnosed with schizophrenia?
My message to current college students diagnosed with schizophrenia is that they are not alone. There are 51 million people in the world with schizophrenia. That is 1.1% of the world’s population over the age of eighteen. Click To Tweet Do not let your mental illness define you, and do not let anyone, including yourself, limit your capabilities because of your diagnosis. There will be obstacles. There will be hardship. I am not saying that it will be easy; what I am saying is not to give up on yourself or your dreams. You have the power to become the best version of you. Don’t let anyone take that away.
August Blair is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media strategist. She is passionate about health and wellness, social issues, and the environment. She studies Communication at The University of North Georgia.
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