I was oblivious to the fact these questions would lead the doctors to my final diagnosis. After a couple of weeks in the hospital, and several tests, later the doctor sat me down and told me that I have schizophrenia. He said this explains the paranoia and other symptoms I had been experiencing.
Awareness is one of the first steps to overcoming a mental illness. Most of the time awareness of a mental illness is initiated by an outside party. A friend once told me I need to see a psychologist. At the time I was not aware of an issue and did not take my friend seriously. In another incidence, a complete stranger told me I look disoriented and confused, and asked me if I needed help.First, the family member or friend should make sure they create or maintain a trusting relationship with the patient. You may be that person's eyes. Be very observant, in a subtle kind of a way. At some point there could be a very harsh reality (occurrence) where you will be an intricate part of the doctor's analysis.
The family member of the individual living with schizophrenia will go through an emotional roller coaster. In the beginning my mother knew something was wrong, but she did not know what. At first she thought it was PMS. She would ask me if I was on my period when she noticed my demeanor changed. In response to her question I got very offended and did not take her concern seriously. Consequently, I faced a harsh reality when I ended up in a jail cell after I got involved in a high speed chase with the police in a stolen military truck. In jail, I was uncooperative and unlike my usual self. My social worker, attorney, and nurse pulled my family aside for questioning about my personality and background. My family played an intricate role in unveiling the real me. They told officials what my interest and goals were.
Second, a family member or a friend should keep a journal, preferably on the computer in order to make copies, or hand-written -- any way that's comfortable for you. The purpose of the journal is to keep an account the patient's symptoms and behaviors,which will be very helpful when sharing with health professionals. The journal should include dates of admission into the hospital or other treatment facilities. Last, but not least, entries that describe the patient's behavior, reaction to treatment, and improvement. The types of medication prescribed should also be included in the journal.
After I was in jail and in the hospital my mother kept a journal of every official she came into contact with. She recorded names, conversations, and resources for schizophrenia.
Third, find a good psychiatrist, not just a psychologist or therapist, but someone who specializes in schizophrenia. It is better if you get a recommendation from another family experiencing the same thing you are going through. You can find another family, to get a referral from, at a support group such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/).
In my case, we went to the county mental health clinic for help. There my therapist and psychiatrist interviewed me. They asked me questions about my background and family medical history. There we also discovered classes for patients to discuss symptoms and to learn how to cope with the illness.
Again, to bring about awareness and to eventually overcome denial of schizophrenia, be observant, keep a journal, and get connected with a great support system in order to find a good psychiatrist.
What has been a useful tool in finally bringing about awareness of a close one's illness? What signals did you notice that seemed out of the norm and encouraged you to seek help?