SCHIZOPHRENIA and personality disorders need to be discussed as openly in public as depression and anxiety in order to tackle ongoing stigma and misunderstanding around the conditions, a leading mental health expert has said.

The annual report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland said awareness of mental illnesses including anxiety and depression had been raised by the increasing numbers of people in the public eye willing to speak out about their own experiences.

Read more: 'Serious failings' in care of autistic woman who took own life in care home 

However, chairman Graham Forbes said it was time "for that kind of open discussion to extend to those mental illnesses and diagnoses which are less well known, and can be misunderstood".

Colin McKay, chief executive of the watchdog, said these mainly included schizophrenia, personality disorders and autism.

HeraldScotland: Colin McKay

Mr McKay said the discourse around schizophrenia was still bogged down by "myths around split personalities and an association in people's minds with dangerousness".

He added that the Commission would also be focusing its attention during the current year on services for people with borderline personality disorder and autism, which he said the existing health and social care systems "struggle to respond effectively to".

The focus on autism follows the case of a 44-year-old autistic woman who committed suicide.

Mr McKay said: "Part of the story there was that she bounced between psychiatric wards and care homes for people with learning disability - but she didn't have a mental illness and she didn't have a learning disability so it's not surprising that her needs weren't met.

"A lot of the focus nowadays is in early diagnosis in schooling, but for adults with autism that may need support we have found that people get shoe-horned into mental illness services or learning disability services that aren't really geared up to deal with them."

Read more: 'More help needed for 'neglected' personality disorders'

Mr McKay added that help for personality disorders had also been hampered in the past by the fact there are no drug therapies for patients, who experience intense emotional instability, impulsiveness and paranoia.

He said: "A diagnosis in the past has almost been a way of saying 'we can't treat you - go away'.

"A lot of the interventions are psychological rather than medical, so because the dominance of medicine and drugs in psychiatry for a long time I think it's been a difficult thing to address."