On, October 3rd, 2017, I had the opportunity to view the documentary film Before Stage Four: Confronting Early Psychosis, at a screening in Washington, D.C. The film taught me so much about the importance of confronting early psychosis. Catching the symptoms at their onset helps those struggling with them, as well as their loved ones. Detecting the problem early and providing the right treatment would have a significant impact on society as a whole. It is an issue that every person should understand.
The danger of untreated psychosis
History has shown us that people suffering from psychosis who don’t receive proper treatment are likely to end up either homeless or incarcerated. As I watched Before Stage Four, I learned the story of Paul Gionfriddo’s son. Paul is the President and CEO of Mental Health America (MHA). But, more than that, he is the father of a grown son who has struggled with psychosis from an early age.
Before entering the field of mental health, Gionfriddo was a congressman from Connecticut. Nowadays he regrets playing a part in closing down state hospitals and community centers. These places were providing people struggling with mental illness with the help they needed. He also acknowledges that while the government takes these actions to save money, society ends up paying for it in the long run. Many of the people who are left with no options for treatment end up in jail. Unfortunately, it is oftentimes the only treatment for those with stage 4 schizophrenia due to minor offenses. Stage 4, also called the active phase, is characterized by psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and disorganized behavior.
When he was as young as 5 years old, Gionfriddo’s son, Tim, showed early signs of psychosis. At that time, diagnosis was not common in children at such a young age. Tim’s struggle with psychotic symptoms grew along with him. As he got older he struggled to stay out of trouble. He had a hard time following rules and ended up suspended, expelled, and in and out of jail. Tim is now 32 years old and lives on the streets of San Francisco. Gionfriddo believes that Tim’s experience could have been different if there had been early detection of psychosis. He wants to help others have a different experience than Tim has had.
Why early detection matters
The University of Pittsburg is conducting testing on young people’s brains to learn who is at risk of developing psychosis. Their research is part of the initiative of Before Stage Four. The film states that, “half of mental illness in this country emerges by the age of 14.” But many people don’t receive treatment until they are well into their 20s. Early symptoms of diseases such as schizophrenia go untreated and people are left to suffer until they have reached stage 4 of the disease. When they struggle from psychosis for this long, finding the proper treatment can be more difficult.
That’s why Paul Gionfriddo and MHA are working to help predict who is at risk of developing the symptoms. If each young person gets screenings for the likelihood of mental illness along with their hearing and vision screenings, the early signs would be easier to detect, allowing for earlier treatment.
While they continue to work towards that goal, MHA has developed free online screening tools. Over two million people have completed the screening. Sixty-seven percent of young people between the ages of 11 and 24 showed positive scores for mental illness. Anyone can take the online tests, and it only takes a few minutes. You are not required to provide a name or contact information to receive your results.
Get the treatment you need
Society as a whole is just beginning to understand mental illness. The resources are still lacking in many places, leaving many people unable to get the help they need. There are many poor schools with no resources at all. They are unsure of how to deal with youth who struggle with mental health issues. Many end up escorted out of the school in handcuffs. We need to catch the symptoms earlier to stop this from happening. Early diagnosis could help people treat mental health challenges as an obstacle to the best life possible, and not an illness.
As an adolescent, being hospitalized in a mental hospital becomes part of your identity. I can totally relate to that from my own experience. Today’s youth can live a full life if they are provided with the treatment they need before it reaches the point of being hospitalized or imprisoned. They can stay in school or at their job, or learn the skills they need in order to return to either. The progress that is being made by organizations like MHA can be the difference we need to improve individuals’ lives, and society as a whole.
Early detection of psychosis could lower the number of people in prison, in psychiatric hospitals, and those living on the streets. If you believe that you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness, click here to take the assessments at MHA. Don’t delay. Get started on the path to finding the treatment that you need.
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Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health speakers and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, Mike was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry. He starred in several OC87 Recovery Diaries documentary films. Check out his compelling TEDx talk, Mental Illness is An Asset.