Mental Illness Awareness Week 2014

  • It's 2014: too late in the history of the recovery movement to ignore the continual failed treatments-and near-universal lack of good treatment-for individuals experiencing psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia.


    This SharePost will focus on what I see as the problem, and will offer suggestions as to how to make things right.  Uncovering what goes on is the first step in becoming aware that taking charge of effecting positive changes is imperative for everyone involved: those of us with diagnoses, our family members, and our providers.


    In 1987, I was shunted into two "day programs" after I got out of the hospital the first time.  The second was little more than a babysitting service for people who couldn't function in any way outside in society.  I fought to be taken seriously in my goal of getting a full-time job and living independently.

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    It was also recommended that I live in a halfway house and then a residential apartment program.  The three-and-a-half years I spent in this community mental health system were the worst years of my life.  Nine years after I started here as the Health Guide, I believe I succeeded despite my time in the mental health system not because of it.


    I recommend you research, research, research carefully the options you're presented with when you're newly diagnosed with schizophrenia.  My thinking is that a young person should try to get back into the swing of life as soon as possible.  Consider going to work or attending school at the same time you see your doctor and therapist.  Attend a support group too for as long as you need to.


    It's been my experience that the mental health staff stigmatized me.  I was quiet because I was shell-shocked when I was told I couldn't consider getting a job; that I had to attend the second day program.  Since I was quiet, the counselor placed at the bottom level of the five-group hierarchy at the second day program.  My introverted nature was deemed pathological.


    I was intelligent; I had social skills; I'd had jobs before I got sick-both paid employment, and as a disc jockey on the FM radio, a labor of love.  A young person with so much potential should not be strung along for years in a system like I was in 1987.


    While it's true better programs might exist now, I still think a person should choose carefully what they think is the best option for their needs at this moment in time.  It might be that a young person can live at home until they move into their own apartment.  I recommend that if you're a parent, you insist your adult child, who lives with you and has a mental illness, do their own laundry, help clean the house, and share in meal preparation.


    A better option if you're newly diagnosed might be to attend an IPRT, or Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment program, where you set a life goal with a 12 to 24 month completion date along with your counselor and treatment team.  I will write about one such great program shortly.


    The last kind of treatment that I will talk about that I think can fail a lot of people is the unregulated drug rehab treatment center industry.  From experience, I think certain drug rehab centers by their very nature set a person up to fail on the outside.  About half of all individuals with schizophrenia, and half of those with bipolar, have a co-occurring substance use disorder.


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    The drug rehab treatment industry is not regulated.  The tactics: a kind of boot camp where individuals are shamed, doesn't encourage pride and resilience.  Positive reinforcement is the way to go if you ask me; not shaming and blaming individuals.


    If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, again-research, research, research your treatment options.  The colloquial definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.


    I was lucky, and it might have been predestined, that I got the right treatment, right away: I was hospitalized within 24 hours of my breakdown, given the drug that worked, and three weeks later my symptoms had stopped.


    As long as a lack of good treatment continues to exist, I will speak out.  I will tell my signature story every chance I get: that getting the right treatment, right away results in a better outcome.


    It's 2014.  We can do better-for ourselves, for our loved ones, and if we're providers-for the people we treat.

Published On: October 07, 2014