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.
Imagine a truck driver collapses over the wheel and slams into a school bus killing eight children. He'd had a heart attack. Now imagine a man takes a gun, enters a theatre and shoots randomly, killing eight children. It seems he had an acute psychotic break. The truck driver probably won't go to jail. But the young man? He'll be maligned and incarcerated. In truth, neither one is to blame for their illness or the tragic unpredictable events.
People with schizophrenia don't have a Master's degree in Neuroscience. I'm simply too intelligent to have schizophrenia, right? Then why do rats eat my brain, why do voices yell at me, and why am I being stalked by a homicidal man with a sniper gun (I've got proof)? I assume it is normal. I don't have any friends and I have withdrawn from my family so no one but Them (doctors, nurses -- everyone in league with the enemy) diagnose me, treat me. So here are your pills. You would think that after all of this, I would surely realize that I had schizophrenia. I didn't, though.
When people suffering from mental illness receive intensive treatment in programs specifically designed for them, most of them do much better. Anti-psychotic medications are understood to provide the foundation upon which any other treatments can be added. These messages are in direct conflict with the message from journalist Robert Whitaker. Robert Whitaker does excellent work describing the egregious practices of the pharmaceutical industries. However, his extreme stance against the value of psychotropic medications is scary. Any parents of a psychotic son or daughter who heard his recent presentation in Vancouver would want to keep their child far away from the early psychosis intervention programs that offer the best hope for recovery.
The stigma that is still associated with mental illness keeps so many hidden away. Fear is our biggest enemy: fear of receiving the diagnosis; fear of accessing care; fear of others finding out; fear of those with mental illness. Twenty-seven per cent of the population are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness. It just isn't cool to have a mental illness. You don't see the famous or the infamous proudly wearing a bracelet identifying them with the needs of the mentally ill.
Advertisements and billboards around Canada are encouraging us to discuss mental health problems as part of Bell's "Let's Talk" campaign on Feb. 12. However, those of us who wish Canadians could finally receive much needed public education about psychotic disorders are disappointed. Canada is fortunate to have quite a few early psychosis intervention programs. But given the poor state of knowledge about both the early signs and the existence of programs, too many families aren't getting the knowledge they need. These are major public health problems. Let's talk about them.
It is the stigma, the shame and prejudice attached to the phrase "mental illness" that keeps people from accessing care. Mental illness is not in the mind; it is in the brain. Changing the name from "mental" to brain illness can be the beginning of a change in attitude towards those of us with these illnesses.
Since my daughter experienced her first psychotic break while still a young teenager, she missed the kinds of gradual steps others get to take in developing work skills. Fortunately for her, Vancouver has an agency focused on helping people living with mental illnesses. But its funding might be cut back.
Caregiving for a loved one with schizophrenia presents unique challenges. This loss of reality and inconsistent behaviour can make it difficult for people with schizophrenia to independently support themselves, which is why caregivers play such an important role in the lives of their loved one with this disease.
The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness week in Canada. I would like to dispel two of the myths of mental illness that are frequently mentioned -- that schizophrenia is not a disease and that medications make schizophrenia worse and/or are not needed. Proper treatment for people with serious mental illnesses can do wonders and it is cruel to deny that these illnesses exist.
When I first heard that the U.S. cable channel, TNT, was producing a series about a neuroscientist with paranoid schizophrenia called Perception, I was ecstatic. After recently watching it on the Bravo network in Canada and I was even more appalled. The writers seemingly got halfway through "Psych 101" in college, dropped out and went on to write for television.
It is regrettable that almost all the information that people get about schizophrenia occurs when someone with this disease commits a violent act. And most perpetrators, if not all, are untreated. It is now coming out that James Holmes, the alleged Colorado shooter, had been seeing a psychiatrist who specializes in schizophrenia. No one knows his diagnosis, if there is one, but he seems to have all the hallmarks of someone with active psychosis.
The annual convention of the U.S.-based National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) just finished educating its 1700 participants on the latest research relevant for people living with severe mental illnesses.And what's the situation in Canada? Families here certainly aren't being led to advocate for the most helpful education programs for people living with psychotic disorders.
The medical system's treatment of schizophrenic patients is akin to how our society treats people who are afflicted with the most serious of mental illnesses. Something must be done for those with schizophrenia so that they do not continue to die 15-20 years before everyone else as is the case now because they do not get the same level of medical care that the rest of us enjoy.
In Robert Whitaker's book, The Anatomy of an Epidemic, his main conclusion is that antipsychotic medications are bad. He argues that the outcomes for schizophrenia recovery rates have worsened with the introduction of medication. But a very recent study done by the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, just concluded that the benefit of these drugs has been proven.
Even though Schizophrenia Awareness Day is limited to May 24th, Canadians are exposed to education about schizophrenia all year long. Every time they read a gruesome news article about it, or have a difficult encounter with someone with an untreated psychosis, they receive confusing knowledge. It creates the kind of image of severe mental illnesses that crusaders against stigma would like them to forget.
A mentally ill young woman, who thrived on medication and crumbled without, lobbied to be removed from mandatory treatment -- she didn't like being medicated. Her parents were very surprised when they learned that, after a year of stability, her community mental health team had decided, without consulting them, to release their daughter from mandatory treatment.