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NABJ Panel on Schizophrenia Awareness-- The Experience

Today I participated on a National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) panel on Schizophrenia awareness in Washington D.C. My fellow panelists included: Judge Arthur Burnett, Sr., Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., Xavier Amador, PhD, Jennifer Ayers-Moore, and Jennifer Pifer-Bixel, and moderator Vicki Mabrey (and with us in the photograph are some of Janssen's executives). Here is a summary of the panel discussion...

We discussed a range of Schizophrenia information: the basics or symptoms, myths, and personal testimonies. More specifically, we mentioned the need for more education and success stories in the media. Additionally, "Assertive Community Treatment (A.C.T.)" groups were discussed in regards to helping people living with a diagnosis stay involved in their treatment and to get the necessary resources to move forward in their recovery. "ACT" teams generally consist of a group of health care professionals that assist people in the healing process. Another group that was mentioned to help people stay involved in the community were: "Mental Health Courts." Mental Health Courts were developed for people who had encounters with law enforcement or jail system, mental illness, substance abuse, and/or HIV/AIDS, to stay connected to the community.

Religious beliefs and delusions (having false beliefs) was another topic. I shared experiences regarding my faith and how I did not recognize the signs of mental illness because I thought I was spiritually gifted like the people in the Bible. In short, I thought I had the gift of discernment, whereas, I could decipher "evil" spirits and "good" spirits within people. In addition to that, I did not know what a mental illness was, and I did not recognize that I needed support from a professional because I lacked insight.

Some panelists emphasized that support is crucial to a person's recovery as well as treatment, which I most definitely am in agreement with. A member of the panel even stressed that insight into one's illness was not essential to reach a state of wellness, and that relationships are key to recovery.

One barrier to treatment for some members of the black community were addressed. Some people feel like doctors are not culturally sensitive enough to help them cope with their concerns. However, there are programs being established to encourage and mentor youth black students to get involved in the medical field in order to develop a medical career in the future. One of the ways the program strives to reduce barriers to treatment is to enhance the growth of more black medical specialists to help support the needs of the community.

Finally, with the assumption that media perpetuates misconceptions about mental illnesses, panelists encouraged journalists to also bring attention to people overcoming the illness and educating the public about mental health. Yes, in some incidents people living with a diagnosis may be involved in a crime, however, journalists can also educate the public about the facts through success stories.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience serving on the panel along side influential members and contributors to the mental health field. I felt supported by each member on the panel. I feel honored to have played a role in the panel discussion and to have served on the program along side my fellow panelists. For more information on the NABJ event visit the website at

To learn more information about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


eyelift said…
This is really wonderful awareness programme. This is necessary too. I am also favored this kind of awareness programme.
Jen Daisybee said…
Congratulations, Ashley, on being invited to be involved in such a panel. That sounds like a great experience, and I can see where a lot of important topics where raised. I think it's great that you were able to be involved and speak about your first-hand experiences. I think we can make a huge difference in perceptions about peple with mental illnesses just by telling our stories. I remember when you started your blog, and you have done a lot to educate people in thae time since then.
Ashley Smith said…
I appreciate your feedback and continuous support, Jen!

Thank you...
Anonymous said…
I have a question concerning the statement that "insight into one's illness was not essential to reach a state of wellness" My wife has been struggling with what appears to be the symptoms of schizophrenia for years now. She has refused to see any doctors so it is not possible to get a professional diagnosis of what is going on wiht her. She interprets her experiences in terms of religious metaphors. She has cut herself off from family and friends so that I am about the only person she has contact with anymore. The main symptoms are hearing voices and irrational fears, but she has seemed to adapt to those over the years to where she has a life that seems to be one that she gets some enjoyment from (moreso that I do).

If a person seemingly has no insight into their condition and adamantly refuses medical help and are quite healthy physically otherwise, are they living in "wellness"? I have been told that I am enabling her illness by providing this life for her and that I need to leave her so as to cause some sort of "crisis" that might get her help (which I have considered anyway due to the difficulty of trying to live with her) Am I harming her by allowing her to live in this condition?

Thank you.
Ashley Smith said…
Hi Anonymous Blogger,

Thank you for your courage to open up and to address your family's concern. I am sure you are not the only one who had these questions after reading this blog entry.

I do apologize for having you wait this long for a reply, I want to answer your questions to the best of my ability and I needed to meditate on your questions until now.

First, I am not a health care professional, however, I appreciate the opportunity to offer my opinions. With that said, in regards to your first question, "wellness" or "recovery" has various meanings to different people.

Although it seems like your wife has Schizophrenia, that may not be the correct diagnosis because many mental health concerns have similarities that only a health care professional could best differentiate.

Because your wife has isolated herself, except in regards to you, I think you are at an advantage to influence her to get involved in some sort of treatment- there are alternative forms of treatment (i.e. medication, therapies, etc.) for mental illness.

However, I must emphasize that you should try to continue to keep her trust, and do not force her, or rush her into treatment, because that may lead her to isolate herself from you or to not trust you anymore. Therefore, keep an open mind when she shares bizarre experiences, thoughts, etc. with you.

In fact, it may be a good idea for you to journal about incidents, symptoms, and anything you think is relevant to a health care professional in order to have a better idea of her diagnosis and condition. That way, you can get the advice and support you in need with the evidence of what's going on in her life.

Finally, to address your last question- 'are you harming your wife by allowing her to live in the condition that she is in?' That is a very hard question to answer for me because I know your intentions are well like many other families in similar positions.

You are her only trusted confidant and connection to reality and the outside world. Use your influence to guide her to speak to a health care professional and other individuals who are living with a mental illness and who can relate to her such as a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS)- an individual living with a mental illness who is trained to assist peers in recovery.

In my experience, I tried to cut off family and friends for different reasons that seemed rational to me at the time. For instance, I thought friends were gossiping about me and this made me very upset, hurt, and uncomfortable so I shut them out. I tried to isolate from family because I thought they did not have my best interest, sometimes I thought they were impostures, other times I thought they were trying to harm me. After being medicated for a while and educated about my illness, I started to question myself in regards to isolating from family and I contacted them and they welcomed me with open arms because they knew something was wrong and I was not my regular self. Today, I have a great relationship with family because of my insight into the illness and personal relationships.

I believe there is hope for your wife or anyone living with mental illness. I do encourage you to keep that trust with your wife, journal about her symptoms, etc., and try to get her to talk to another person living with a mental illness and health care professional- Gradually. And do not expect results very early, recovery is a process, which is ongoing for me.

Thank you again for your questions, openness, and willingness to seek support. I do wish you the best on you and your wife's journey to recovery.

Ashley Smith
Anonymous said…

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Do you have any recommendations on finding a CPS? That sounds like an excellent suggestion.
Ashley Smith said…
Hi Anonymous Blogger,

You may find a CPS at a mental health clubhouse or organization. The CPS model is still kind of new so it depends on what state you live in, but it is a growing practice to train and enable consumers to guide peers on their path to recovery. I wish you success on your family's path to recovery.

Best regards,
Ashley Smith

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