Schizophrenia: A shadow with a face


Today (24 May) is World Schizophrenia Awareness Day 2024. Satellite Ambassador Justin Heazlewood is a musician and author. Justin wrote ‘Schizophrenia: A shadow with a face’ to acknowledge World Schizophrenia Awareness Day. Justin’s book, ‘Get Up Mum’, charts one year in the life of a 12-year-old growing up in Tasmania in the early ’90s. As a child and as a child carer, Justin had a hobby — obsessively capturing the voices of his family and friends on tape, including his Mum who lives with schizophrenia. You can find out more about Justin at his website,

When I think of cancer, Olivia Newton-John beams to mind. Carrie Fisher flashed her diamond wit to spotlight bipolar disorder. MND is freezing-out ignorance with the plucky headwear of Neale Daniher. For autism, I recall the wide-eyed souls from the Love On the Spectrum series.

There is one condition which doesn’t have a face – only voices. Whispers in the shadows.

As a subject, it’s swept under the magic carpet.

We are talking about a chronic brain disorder which affects one in a hundred people. It causes the person to lose touch with reality. It is complex and abstract. It has a name, even that is a mouthful.


It’s an illness, like cancer. People can survive it. The shockwave impacts on everyone.

Schizophrenia doesn’t have many famous faces. It turns out Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys has schizoaffective bipolar (one of several conditions which involve hearing voices). The 2013 doco ‘The Sunnyboy’ shows the story of Jeremy Oxley, lead singer of Aussie band The Sunnyboys, as he (and his partner) navigate the soul-bending condition.

The most famous survivor I know is Mum. I tried to paint her face through the poetry in my memoir ‘Get Up Mum’. The opposite of demonise is humanise. This is a very human illness because people are complicated and the brain is mysterious.

I am a member of the schizophrenia community. I guess I’ve been trying to take ownership of it (what else are your forties for?) Every year in May, I trawl through articles from the patchwork thicket of mental health organisations; cherry-picking factoids and soothing myself with self-education.

This year I learned about three different kinds: Paranoid (the one mum has), Hebephrenic / Disorganised (frenetic thought, unusual speech) and Catatonic (inert body, the rarest kind).

In a story by SBS’s The Feed, Phoebe Kingston suggests that the stigma around schizophrenia is worse than the condition itself. We could have said that about AIDS in the 1980s. Look how much work was invested there to turn the message around.

A face needs a name. When someone has cancer we don’t say they are experiencing ‘physical health.’ We aren’t embarrassed by cancer.

Schizophrenia needs a warrior to defend it. We would do well to show its face. A cloud community of survivors and carers. We’re stuck on a mountain face. I believe we have the nous and the grit.

We certainly have the heart, when it’s not being robbed by grief.



Read Justin’s piece entitled “Dear Schizophrenia” for World Schizophrenia Awareness Day 2022:

A link to the SBS Feed article:

A video about the different types of schizophrenia:

A longer article on Justin’s website:




Lived & Living Experience

Dear Schizophrenia…

Satellite Ambassador Justin Heazlewood writes a letter to schizophrenia, to acknowledge World Schizophrenia Awareness Day on 24 May 2022.

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