Despite the good intentions of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 5 - 11), it's pretty hard to learn some of the most basic information we need to know about mental illnesses. Many organizations, including the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) encourage us to take this week to discuss mental illness, but there seems to be a puzzling assumption that we don't actually have to know much about mental illnesses in order to have meaningful discussions. I'm still looking at the website for links to the early signs of psychosis or any information about schizophrenia.
Psychotic disorders are frequently accompanied by significant and disabling cognitive losses. Why don't people learn about these cognitive losses? This lack of information has enormous negative consequences. For instance, families who have not been told about these cognitive losses, may have very different interpretations of a family member's difficulties in keeping a room clean or in not relaying phone messages. Parents will respond differently to these kinds of situations if they learn that this behaviour isn't willful, but is symptomatic of an ongoing brain disorder.
Since Canada, like the U.S., has almost no science based public education about psychotic disorders, people with these illnesses are especially vulnerable to messages that they don't need medications and are better off avoiding them. As well, both countries lack adequate psycho-education programs for people with these illnesses.
This might come as quite a shock to the many American families I know who can't get treatment for their very ill sons and daughters whose psychotic states aren't 'passing.' These are families whose children have joined the millions of Americans living with untreated severe mental illnesses. They are homeless, victimized, and cycling in and out of jails and prisons.
People trying to help their family members struggling with severe mental illnesses don't have access to researchers. It's no surprise, then, that researchers ignore topics that reflect their perspectives on how to improve the mental health system. I hope they will consider the five areas discussed below.
I knew that what was happening for me at home was so different from my peers that I kept it secret, wanting to be "normal" at all costs. I felt alone and scared of absolutely everything. I was scared of Phil and the condition, scared of people finding out what was happening and scared of becoming ill like he was. This is where photography saved me.
If e-cigarettes were approved, they could be allowed for use by those suffering with serious psychiatric disorders in hospital. Those devices might help alleviate some of the deficits associated with schizophrenia, reduce the health risks of cigarette smoking, and allow for patients to smoke in hospital without the need to be allowed off the ward.
Planning for the future presents serious problems for parents of people with significant disabilities; when those families are dealing with psychotic illnesses, the future is especially frightening. While it is impossible to deny that progress is being made, the simple fact is that our world, as it stands, has little desire to label people with mental illness as anything but crazy and dangerous.
With traditional first aid, those who are trained would give CPR to someone in cardiac arrest until the paramedics arrived or staunch bleeding or do mouth to mouth. The ill individual would be helped and then handed over to the professionals. Does MHFA accomplish the same? Do those they counsel end with professional help? The answer from the evaluations that have been done is no.
There are no other evaluations of the program that I can find searching the medical literature and the number of participants they evaluated was very small. My suggestion to the psychiatric contrarians is to can the hype on Open Dialogue until independent studies do confirm your views that it is vastly better than what currently exists.
I need the medications to stay healthy. My need is not one that comes from weakness; it comes from an underlying chemical imbalance that talk therapy alone could not fix. People still tell me there are ways of treating my illness that don't include drugs. I wonder if they say the same thing to their friends with high blood pressure and diabetes?
The CIA was not spying on me. Nor were FBI agents looking to bring me down. And I was neither the President, Jesus Christ, nor Cleopatra. These, I had heard, are the content of delusions that characterize schizophrenia. Given that logic, I did not consider myself to have schizophrenia. I think that these shallow nuances of delusion kept me in my illness and away from probing psychiatrists.
With Bill C-54, if you are deemed to be "high risk not criminally responsible," you will be held for a minimum of three years before you ever have the chance to see a review board. As someone who has not only been a patient in three separate psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, but has also worked in forensic psychiatric institutions, I know that they aren't always the best places to get better. With proper treatment, I was healthy again and posed no threat to the public within a few months. Had I been forced to remain in hospital for three years, I likely wouldn't be the productive, law-abiding citizen that I am today.