Opinion: Why is the educational attainment of people with schizophrenia lagging so far behind?

Opinion: Why is the educational attainment of people with schizophrenia lagging so far behind?

7 July 2022

The stigmatised views of researchers, clinicians and policy makers may be to blame for the lag in educational attainment among young people with schizophrenia, Orygen Chief of Research Eóin Killackey has argued.

Professor Killackey’s comment piece came on the back of a recent paper published in Lancet Psychiatry which systematically reviewed 50 years of data on the educational outcomes of people with schizophrenia.

It found that people with schizophrenia in high-income countries had 19 months less education than other people and, significantly, the gap in educational attainment hadn’t closed in the past 50 years.

Responding to the research, Professor Killackey argued in Lancet Psychiatry that there were two possible explanations.

“One explanation might put the fault on the nature of the illness,” Professor Killackey wrote.

“Schizophrenia and other mental illnesses have their prime period of onset in the same period of life when people are completing their secondary studies and commencing higher education or training. Thus, the onset of these illnesses has the potential to derail this essential part of vocational development.”

However, Professor Killackey stated that this explanation was unsatisfactory, given that the issue of poor educational attainment had been recognised for so long and that there had been a lack of efforts to address it.

“One might almost wonder if, in many ways, this obvious intervention target has been missed through researchers, clinicians, and policy makers buying into a stigmatised view of people with mental illness, particularly people with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, which suggests that they will not have careers, and therefore remediating lost educational opportunity is not worth the effort,” Professor Killackey wrote.

“This is an awkward suggestion, but one that must be engaged with if progress is to be made.”

Professor Killackey was hopeful however, stating that the greater inclusion of the voices of people with lived experience of schizophrenia may lead to better educational outcomes.

“Studies asking people with schizophrenia and other psychotic illness what they want have consistently reported that education is among their top goals,” Professor Killackey wrote.

“As the lived experience voice is included more seriously in mental health services and mental health research, it is to be hoped that both the efforts of researchers and the financial resources of funding bodies will be directed at finding evidence-based ways to address this crucial issue.”

Orygen’s employment and education partnerships work with key stakeholders – including young people with lived experience of mental ill-health – and aim ensure that all young people with mental ill-health can achieve their education, employment and career goals.