Mental Health Advocacy: Combating Schizophrenia Misperceptions


What does it mean to be schizophrenic?

Many people would say schizophrenics have hallucinations, hear voices, and are paranoid.

Those are what pharma giant Boehringer Ingelheim calls “positive” symptoms of schizophrenia, and drugs to treat them have been around for decades.

But drugs haven’t been available for two other parts of schizophrenia: “Negative” symptoms like having trouble speaking, not showing any emotions, and avoiding other people.

Then there’s cognitive impairment, such as having trouble paying attention, remembering things, organizing thoughts, making decisions and handling social situations.

It’s Boehringer to the rescue for both domains -- with treatments now in late-stage/ phase 3 trials and expected to come to market in 2025.

Prior to the launch of the new products, Boehringer is out to increase awareness of the two lesser-known parts of schizophrenia -- “what is not talked about,” in the words of Christine Sakdalan, the pharma company’s U.S. head of mental health.

“We believe that being stable on the psychosis aspect of schizophrenia is not enough,” Sakdalan tells Pharma & Health Insider. “Once the positive symptoms are stabilized, the patients are not necessarily stabilized without treating the other two domains of schizophrenia.

“Part of what we want to do is bring it [the subject] to the public, partner with advocacy groups, partner with coalition groups, and partner with thought leaders to make sure that the right conversations are happening, that the right level of urgency is being put in place.”

With that in mind, Boehringer earlier this month brought a new “Look Beyond Stable” activation to a storefront location in New York City’s Soho neighborhood for a two-day public launch.

Visitors to the experiential event walk around a very messy living room and bedroom, designed to “showcase how people with schizophrenia cannot really help themselves in areas of hygiene, and organizational skills or even finances, so it’s hard for them to get motivated to have a clean environment,” Sakdalan explains.

Furniture “swatches” placed throughout the exhibit contain facts and figures combating misperceptions about schizophrenia, such “that people living with schizophrenia are all violent, that people living with schizophrenia can’t have a conversation or can’t graduate from college.”

By immersing themselves in the experience, she says, “hopefully we get people to have more empathy because they really allow themselves to put themselves in the shoes of people living with schizophrenia.”

Boehringer invited a target audience to the pop-up -- including representatives of advocacy groups, mental health coalitions, patients and caregivers -- but Sakdalan says that many pedestrians “saw what we were doing and just came in.”

The event generated hundreds of thousands of social media impressions, she notes.

Susan Holz, director of Boehringer Ingelheim USA’s Human Pharma Communications, says that pop-up attendees included two well-known schizophrenia patient advocates who are helping the company amplify its message and that “the goal is to continue to build on that, with either foot traffic, but more so spreading the campaign facts in a digital route.” The call-to-action, she says, is for individuals to visit the campaign website.

“We want to take it to other main cities,” says Sakdalan, probably concurrent with events like American Psychological Association meetings, so that “Look Beyond Stable” can reach both healthcare providers and the public. “The plan at the moment, is ‘how do we attach this event to an existing event that is big in nature so that we can also amplify it in that way.”


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