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TV Documentary Lifts The Veil On Schizophrenia


For immediate distribution 5 March 2001

For more information, contact Jane Clement on 021 2177 114 or email


A new broadcast television programme provides an intimate record of the effect of schizophrenia on a young Kiwi and her family.

Called "The Way Home – Susie’s Story", the documentary will be screened on regional television stations throughout New Zealand during Schizophrenia Awareness Week, March 12th-18th.

Just three years ago, Aucklander Susie was hallucinating, paranoid and unable to function. Today, at the age of 24, she is studying at university, able to work part time and flat with other students. In the documentary Susie, her family and her friends recall and re-enact her journey from being committed to the final control of her symptoms with surprising frankness.

The programme’s producer, Southland-based Katie O’Connor, says her biggest challenge as a specialist in mental health education is to find people with mental illnesses who are willing to be as brave as Susie.

"Making this kind of programme exposes your life to thousands of strangers," Ms O’Connor says.

"And it can be confronting to relive episodes you would rather forget. But Susie was determined to do it, because she believes strongly in the need to destigmatise mental illness by showing that people with schizophrenia are ordinary people just like you and me."

Katie O’Connor believes that the tale of Susie’s struggle to regain her own identity is the first time the benefits of integrated care have been so thoroughly demonstrated in public.

Integrated care is an individualised programme under which the patient works closely with a team of mental health professionals towards returning to the community. Susie’s programme included the use of modern anti-psychotic drugs; living in supported accommodation; and counselling for her and her family.

"The key factor is the way Susie and her family have been educated, supported and empowered to find ways to manage the schizophrenia to the point where she is leading a normal life again," says Ms O’Connor.

"Not so long ago, people with schizophrenia were condemned to life in an institution and drug therapy alone. Susie’s story shows that for some patients, integrated care can make a big difference."

Katie O’Connor is gaining a reputation for making in-depth, sensitive television programmes on mental health. Last year a series of three documentaries she produced for Invercargill-based Mercury Television won the Best Broadcast Media Award at the Australasian Mental Health Media Achievement Awards.

Ms O’Connor has long been interested in mental health issues. She has been an active health issues campaigner, has served on an area health board and was one of the first Health and Disability Advocates. She acknowledges she has chosen a very challenging field of documentary making.

"While most television production is driven by the need to get something to air quickly, when you are interviewing people about mental health issues you cannot rush it because you are asking people to reveal their hidden thoughts and feelings, their core being," she says.

Mercury Television has received requests from around the world for copies of her award-winning documentaries.

"I think they fulfil a need for stories about mental health told from a human rather than a clinical point of view," Ms O’Connor says.

"By being painfully honest about their own experiences, Susie and the other subjects in my documentaries are helping people with mental health difficulties, and their families, to feel they are not alone."

For more information about schizophrenia, contact the Schizophrenia Fellowship on 0800 500 363.

"The Way Home – Susie’s Story" is sponsored by Janssen-Cilag New Zealand. It will be shown on the following regional TV stations:

Mainland TV 11 March

Mercury TV 12 March

Triangle TV 12 March

CHTV 13 March

Taranaki TV 13 March

FTN 13 March

Channel 7 13 March

Channel 9 15 March

CATV 18 March

Some facts about schizophrenia:

a.. Schizophrenia affects one person in 100.

b.. About 30,000 New Zealanders have it.

c.. Schizophrenia is an illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

d.. It is nothing to do with having a ‘split personality’.

e.. Inherited genes, home environment and early childhood experiences may – or may not – mean a predisposition towards schizophrenia, but no-one really knows what causes it.

f.. The first signs can be very subtle and difficult to detect.

g.. The earlier it is detected, the more successfully it can be treated.

h.. Alcohol, drugs and stress are common triggers for schizophrenic episodes.

i.. Many people with schizophrenia exhibit no symptoms until their teens (males) or early 20s (females) but some people do not develop the condition until they are much older.

j.. There is no cure for schizophrenia but modern anti-psychotic drugs and an integrated care programme can help patients to control their symptoms.

k.. Very few people with schizophrenia are violent.

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