A few weeks ago I spent the day with two men who had very differing, but equally complex, experiences with schizophrenia. One was 32-year-old Mark, who talked about his own illness. He had been homeless, been made redundant, he'd taken an overdose, and was in and out of hospital on an almost weekly basis when his illness was at its worst.
The other was Alastair Campbell, who you might associate more with his former role as Tony Blair's director of communications, but who now is an active mental health campaigner, and an ambassador for Rethink Mental Illness. Alastair recently talked publicly for the first time about his brother, Donald, and how he had lived with schizophrenia for almost his entire life, and who died at the age of 62 earlier this summer.
The two men were there to be part of a film Rethink Mental Illness made for Schizophrenia Awareness Week, running from 3 to 9 October, attempting to shed some light and awareness on an often very misunderstood illness.
Unfortunately there are still pervasive and damaging stereotypes about schizophrenia, such as the belief that people with the condition are violent and aggressive. In reality those affected are much more likely to harm themselves than anyone else.
The statistics are there to back this up, showing that unprovoked attacks by people with mental illness are incredibly rare and in fact 95% of all murders are committed by people who do not have a mental illness (National Centre For Mental Health).
We also see these stereotypes further ingrained in other forms of media like horror films, and even Halloween costumes of "mental patients", which is something Time To Change, the anti-stigma campaign we run together with Mind, is working very hard to tackle.
When Alastair talked very movingly about his brother, it's clear that these stereotypes are a million miles away from most people with schizophrenia. He describes his humour, talent and warmth for everyone around him. With support from his friends, family and community, Donald was able to work, live independently and enjoy his passion for bagpiping.
However, not everyone living with schizophrenia has this sort of security that allows them to build up the life they want to lead.
Mark is one of these people. Over the past three years he has had support with things like going to the shops, as his chronic anxiety previously meant this was a real challenge. He gets help with making healthy lifestyle changes, and support with budgeting and looking for volunteering opportunities. He's now in a position to move out and begin living independently again, and has ambitions about finding a job once he's settled in a new home.
Currently one in five people with a severe mental illness live in supported housing – the second largest group living in this kind of accommodation after older people.
"Supported housing" is one of those terms that those of us working in the sector use all the time, but it might not mean that much to most people, not until you need it, that is. It provides a safe roof over their head but also the vital support extra. This kind of housing is not a luxury, but fundamental to the many people who have a mental illness and are not yet well enough to live on their own.
Unfortunately this support has found itself under threat from government cuts and reform over the years, jeopardising tens of thousands of people like Mark's health and recovery. This is why our new campaign petition, called A Place Called Home, calls on the Prime Minister to ensure full funding for safe and secure supported housing for people severely affected by mental illness, for as long as they need it and wherever they live.
We are campaigning to make sure the government recognises that, for many, supported housing is an indispensible first step towards better health and a better quality of life.
Sign our petition here: www.rethink.org/szweek
Brian Dow is director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness