Friday, December 31, 2010

Hopeful about finding Work

I am hopeful that I will find part-time work in the mental health field. I would like to have a position that mirrors that of a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS). A CPS works directly with people who have a mental health diagnosis. They assist peers with recovery goals, facilitate groups, and act as a mentor. However, the position requires special training followed by intense testing, and certification. I plan on applying for the CPS training this summer.

Most of the jobs I am interested in requires CPS training and certification. Even though I am limited in that regard I am enthusiastic about finding work and will continue with the job search.

If you would like to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mental Health Recovery To Me

Yesterday, in group we had a discussion about recovery- what does it mean to us, how other organizations define it, and tips to reach recovery. I heard various understandings of what recovery means- change, growth, restore what was taken, etc. In addition to getting everyone;s opinion on the meaning of recovery, we read SAMHSA's 10 Fundamental Components of Recovery.

My definition of recovery is focused on action. First and foremost, recovery to me is accepting my diagnosis of schizophrenia, and taking ownership of my well being by seeking treatment and support, and getting involved in my treatment plan with health care professions. It involves speaking up about needs and asking questions. In other words, advocating for myself.

Recovery is accepting change and learning the new Ashley after receiving a mental health diagnosis- that is being real with self and capabilities by revising my needs and goals. For example, the "new Ashley" is aware of limitations as a result of the illness; I understand that I should Not work or go to college full time for the moment until I reach another phase in my recovery, which is possible!

My personal recovery plan includes sharing my knowledge with others and educating myself about mental health. Additionally, it is volunteering and performing outreach to help reduce stigma and to promote awareness.

At this point in my recovery, I am loving my recovery! Now, I am open about my diagnosis. I am comfortable with the progress I've made, however, I am continuing to strive to improve. I am hopeful that I will achieve my many goals despite living with this illness.

In my experience, my recovery has helped me mature. It has taught me some of the lessons of life that I may not have understood unless I have gone through something as intense and emotional as mental illness.

For instance, I have learned that I am not immune to a lot of things- I guess that philosophy of being immune to things comes with youth but goes away with experience and time. I would have never thought I would encounter mental illness and the things that go with it, in my experience that includes: bizarre thoughts, incarceration, and therapy; and following a regular medication regimen; and the whole recovery process, to list a few things related to mental health.

For me, recovery involved a lot of support from health care professionals, social workers, case managers, family and peers online and in-person. I am thankful for the strong foundation I experienced- the outpatient treatment program and housing arrangement, the group therapy, and NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Finally, I do Not believe recovery comes with a time limit, and that it is the same journey for everyone. To me, recovery does Not equal perfection or is problem free. In my opinion, recovery does Not mean a person is "cured" of the illness. Instead, recovery is managing the mental illness which is an ongoing process that demands a lot of attention and support. However, I do believe the level of progress in one's recovery depends on the individual.

What does mental health recovery mean to you? How has recovery changed your life- whether you are a family member or a person living with a diagnosis?

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

"GIving Back" with NAMI Georgia

Several NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) Georgia trainings will take place on January 28-30, 2011 at Mercer University (Atlanta campus):
  • Family-to-Family
  • Peer-to-Peer
  • In Our Own Voice
The Family-to-Family class is 12 weeks and is facilitated by trained family members of people living with mental health. The class provides current mental health information, teaches the family member care giver how to handle relapses and crisis, and other information to help the care giver.

Opposite that, Peer-to-Peer is for the individual living with mental health. The 10-week course educates peers on relapse prevention, advance directives, and mental health education. The class is facilitated by two trained individuals living with a mental illness.

Finally, In Our Own Voice teaches people living with a mental health concern how to share their experience with mental illness in a 60-90 minute presentation. The presentation is supported by a 15-minute DVD and is led by two presenters.

I have personally received instruction from NAMI Georgia to perform outreach and I love it! In addition to that, the training was a great experience because I met other people with the same illness as me who want to help others.

All of these trainings are FREE (includes hotel, meals, and class materials!) , however, they do require a reference and a commitment to service. For more information about these trainings visit the NAMI Georgia website.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Religious Preoccupation

After a talk, a woman asked me if my faith contributed to my recovery because she noticed that I mentioned it throughout my speech. In addition to that, she told me that she observed people with faith as having a better outcome in their mental health recovery.

First, I came from a family with Christian values. My faith in God started to get intense during the latter years of high school, which in my opinion, is when I started having symptoms. In my experience religion plays a major role in my mental health- its delusions, its coping skills, and in my recovery. In medical terms they call my religious rituals and delusions "religious preoccupation."

Before I was diagnosed I was highly religious. In fact, I wanted to be an evangelist and to go to a Christian college. I would read my Bible for several hours a day throughout the day, listen to hymns, and meditate. Sometimes I would ignore people if they wanted my attention while I was meditating I was in such deep thought.
Also, I would carry my Bible with me everywhere I went.

When I was delusional I assumed I was a prophet of God, and I eventually believed I was Jesus Christ.
While in this state, I felt like everyone was against me and that I was being persecuted all over again like in the Bible. I sensed I had spiritual abilities where I can tell whether someone was good or evil. In the Bible this is called the gift of discernment. Those that were "evil" had black eyes, and others that were "good" glowed to me. Most of the time I sensed evil people around me which frightened me and made my anxiety level high. Also, I felt like I understood God and that I had a special relationship with Him.

To me, the Bible came alive. I started to view people as biblical characters. I believed in spiritual welfare. Spiritual welfare to me is when there is a clash in the spirits, or people, where the good and the bad do not get along. Things happen like gossiping, and cursing arise from spiritual welfare. I felt like I was in the mist of spiritual welfare and that I was a spiritual warrior.

I think that having an undiagnosed mental disorder made my religious practices go to an extreme. In other words, I was obsessed with religion. Like I said earlier, I read my Bible several times a day, and I attended church services a few times a week. And whenever, I did not do my pray or ritual in the order that I usually did it I knew I would have a bad day.

Part of my delusions involved the devil trying to get me to commit suicide. After watching a church service on television I saw the words "how to commit suicide" in the section to order tapes and CDs. This startled me and forced me to turn off the television. That same day I heard a hip-hop song on the radio that suggested to me that the devil wants me to commit suicide. I ignored the music and viewed it as the devil playing games with me, and as spiritual welfare.

I believe my religious beliefs helped me combat suicidal thoughts. However, had I not received treatment when I did I do not know how long I could have struggled with the disturbing thoughts.

Whenever I was in distress, like from the voices or other hallucinations, I would go on walks, pray, or sing hymns. I prayed a lot, in the mornings to bless my day, before meals, during times of stress, and before bed. I used prayer as a coping strategy before I was diagnosed, and did not know why I feeling confused, alienated, and stressed. Sometimes I would make up songs to sing that gave praises to God and that comforted me and made me feel like I was not alone. However, I must emphasize that I never thought the voices I heard were God, I thought the voices were the people around me.

Still in recovery, I view having this illness as a blessing in disguise. For example, when I first attended college I knew I wanted to have a business I just did not know what type of business. Since my diagnosis I have started a non-profit organization, Embracing My Mind, Inc. To me, the illness has given me a new found purpose.

Now, I do not consider myself religious, instead I see myself as spiritual. However, I still attend church and have faith. Looking back on all that I have experienced in life and with this illness I feel blessed. Blessed to be here, blessed to able to live independently despite my disorder, and content that I am able to facilitate groups and to go back to college. I am thankful to everyone who has contributed to my recovery- medical staff, family, and peers.

Even though my faith has played a major role in my life and throughout the course of my illness I am not bias to say that my specific religion or other religions are solely responsible for one's recovery even though it is a factor. I think religion, whatever that faith is, is a factor in one's recovery because of their outlook on life and on the illness.

To answer the woman's question, in my opinion, it depends on one's support network. Yet, I do believe that people with a mental health diagnosis and who have faith may have a strong support system which helps in their recovery. I think that faith-based groups like other groups offer a lot of support.

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mental Health Labels

How should I refer to someone living with a psychiatric diagnosis? There are so many terms that are being used to describe someone with a mental health disorder, these terms include:
  • "Consumer"
  • "Mentally ill"
  • "Patient"
  • "Client"
  • "Crazy"
  • "Schizophrenic"
For example, the word "consumer" identifies a person with a mental health concern, and only that group of people. Even though the term does not bother me I could understand how it can frustrate other people. It seems like even the medical field has separated people living with a diagnosis from the bunch.

In my opinion, some of these terms are stigmatizing. Some of the terms seem to single people out and to make having an illness a negative thing. For instance, the words "mentally ill" sounds dreadful to me. To me, it seems like the individual will never get well or that recovery is not an option.

On the other hand, "patient" and "client" seem more acceptable because the terms put mental health in the same boat as other medical conditions. Mental illnesses are another medical condition and should not be subject to the stigma that takes place now.

To me, labeling a person as "crazy" or "schizophrenic" are totally offensive. Crazy has nothing but negative connotations to me. It describes the maniac, the psychopath, and everything that deviates from the standard put forth in society. It also describes someone who lacks understanding of reality.

However, once upon a time a while ago I may have been considered crazy because I was so out of it. While I was in jail for an incident I did that was caused by my untreated psychosis I did not acknowledge the fact that I was in jail. My mind was so distorted that I thought someone was playing a really bad prank on me. I consider that state of mind as crazy because I was unaware of what was reality and what was actually happening to me. Now I do not look at myself as crazy, and I do not like it when people use the term.

The word "schizophrenic" brings back thoughts of misuse of the term from movies. It is a reminder of the common misconceptions. And the term does not view the individual separate from the illness. I am not schizophrenia, I have the disorder.

I am very interested to learn what you think about these labels. So what should I call someone living with a mental illness? How do you refer to yourself or someone with mental health?

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Living Independently

Do you think it is best that someone living with schizophrenia, or any mental illness, live independently or with a caregiver? I ask this question because it became a small debate in a support group.

One group participant said her doctor suggest that she live with someone even though she strives to live independently. She wanted to understand how is it that people living with schizophrenia live on their own. The therapist said that sometimes the doctor will suggest that a client live with someone because they are unstable on medication or are suicidal among other reasons.

In my opinion, I believe it depends on the situation. I would not make a generalization for all people living with schizophrenia or mental illness in regards to living independently because we are all on different levels in our recovery. In addition to that, many of us living with schizophrenia have various treatment plans that may or may not include medication. I am all for whatever works best for the individual whether it be medication and therapy or alternative treatment.

In fact, I live independently, I stay by myself, cook for myself, etc. However, prior to living independently I lived with my mother, I lived in a group home, and I had a roommate. I lived with my mother on and off for different reasons such as going to college or readjusting to Atlanta (I lived in California for a short moment).

I used to be a part of an outpatient treatment program that provided housing in California. They called the group home independent living. In the independent living establishment there was a house manager that cooked for us and sometimes distributed medication to some of us that required support. Most of us living there either had a disability or were a senior.

While I was living on college campus I had a roommate, actually a few of them. Therefore, you can say I've had quite an experience as far as the living arrangement is concerned. And I would highly suggest that other people living with a diagnosis also experiment with various living arrangements to discover the best fit.

So when I felt comfortable living myself you can imagine the excitement, but also the concern my family had for me. I must add that I live close to family and that I gave a key to a relative to feel safer. And I would also suggest to other people living with or without a mental illness to live close to friends and/or family and to give a key to a trusted individual for emergencies.

I think that living independently with a mental illness requires income, attention to the illness, and support. According to a 2008 NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) survey Schizophrenia: Public Attitudes, Personal Needs 17 percent of participants have public housing, while 50 percent depend on family for living arrangements.

However, I can imagine that some people who are not exposed to people managing their illness well do not think that people with mental health can live independently. On the other hand, the NAMI survey claims that 79 percent of the public believe an individual living with schizophrenia can live independent lives. While that statistic sounds great, the survey went on to suggest that only 24 percent of the participants understand schizophrenia.

Again, I believe living independently depends on the individual. What do you think?

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Frustration: There is more to Schizophrenia than the Voices

One of the greatest things that frustrate me about living with this illness is the fact that most people do not understand what it is even though they think they know. Sometimes I feel so misunderstood by not only certain individuals but by society. Because when I say the word "Schizophrenia" they automatically think voices and that the individual is crazy or will do something violent.

As you can imagine, it is very offensive when I hear someone refer to another individual living with a mental illness as crazy because I have a diagnosis and I do not view myself as such, nor do I view other people with mental health as crazy. I wish I can get through to other people that think that way and explain that mental health has many faces. Mental illness can affect all sorts of people, no matter what intellectual background, socioeconomic status, age, gender, race, etc. Schizophrenia is much more complicated than hearing the voices.

For me, schizophrenia made me think irrationally, do bizarre things, and to have unnecessary stress. I remember the episodes I had before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia...

At one point I thought my peers and professors were against me. However, that belief carried over to everyone conspiring against me, which was very uncomfortable because it seemed like I can feel people gossiping about me, and that I can read their minds and they could read my mind too.

I would have anxiety attacks around certain people because I felt they were evil. I thought I had the gift of discernment where I can decipher evil spirits and good spirits within people and that I was a prophet. Thinking about it now, it was all very weird, but not to me at the time. I tried to rationalize these beliefs and whenever someone doubted me, like for instance, that the professors were against me I would stop telling them information and this led to isolation.

Eventually I felt like I had a special relationship with God and that only I could understand Him. I believed that the dates on the back of milk cartoons were the real date and whatever people said the date was, was incorrect. I felt like I could not trust anyone and that everyone was out to get me, I was very suspicious.

The voices were a distraction to me. I would be holding a good conversation with someone and then one of the voices would intervene and talk about something that did not make sense or talk about the person to whom I was talking to. And when I would stop to hear what the voices were saying the voices would sometimes stop then start again after I resumed my conversation, it was irritating.

My episode with schizophrenia led me to be arrested and placed into jail and into the State Hospital. My thinking was so off I thought the sitting truck with the car keys in them was a blessing from God and indicator to take the truck. And when I got into the truck some hip-hop song was playing. I did not like the song and still do not to this day because of my interpretation of the song. I thought the song had a deeper meaning as if the devil was trying to get me to commit suicide, but I did not want to die! I tried to ignore the song and concentrate on driving the truck. I eventually crashed the truck head-on into a government building while trying to escape the police. While in custody I thought to myself the police will harm me. I even thought I was Jesus Christ for a moment, that was weird. Later, I discovered that the truck belonged to the military which made my incident a felony.

Schizophrenia is much more than the voices. It encompasses paranoia, delusions, and other things that make an individual feel stress. I am not saying that everyone with the disorder will have a run-in with police, that is not true, it is what happened to me.

I hope that if you hear someone refer to a person with mental health as crazy or something you will investigate and educate them because there are so many misconceptions about schizophrenia and mental illness.

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Disclosure Tips for Sticky Situations

In the previous post I briefly discussed disclosure of my illness in regards to housing, and I want to discuss this in a little more detail because people have a right to privacy about their diagnosis. It is unfortunate that some people are open to discuss their mental health, however, sometimes when they think disclosure could be empowering it does more harm than good, due to the fact that other people simply do not understand mental illness.

Although I am open about my diagnosis and experiences to friends and family, and well just about everyone, I am still selective with who I disclose my illness to. I believe sharing such information should be dealt with delicately whenever someone decides to disclose because stigma is still rampant and at work. By no means am I condoning deception, or for someone to lie about their mental health status, I am simply suggesting that people should be cautious.

Due to my experiences, these are some situations where I feel someone should be hesitant about disclosure: 1) housing, 2) employment and or school, and 3) personal relationships. While seeking a home it is your right to not disclose your illness even if you do have disability benefits. When a landlord asks, 'why do have disability benefits?' you can reply by asking their relevance or simply say 'I prefer not to discuss this.'

I would not tell my employer that I have a disability unless I needed accommodations. Someone could say that their disability requires them to have A, B, and C assistance. Even then, they do not have to specify their mental health status. In school, I have accommodations, however, I do not share my diagnosis with professors. I have them sign my assistance form from the disability office at the beginning of the semester by simply saying I have a disability and need accommodations, 'will you sign here.'

Relationships are special. I usually ask trick questions to get a better understanding of my partner's perspective on mental health. For example,I may ask what do you think about depression and if they reply that depression does not exist, that is my cue to not disclose. Other times I ask them if they ever heard of schizophrenia, most of the time they haven't and I may tell them that I work with people with the disorder and begin to educate them about the illness. Then I decipher their interest in the illness. Eventually, if I feel they can handle it I share with them that I have schizophrenia. I do not put a time limit on when I decide to disclose to my partner. Some people I tell, others I never tell and that is my right.

Just because I decide not to disclose my diagnosis does not mean I am ashamed of having the illness. I accept that I have schizophrenia and will have to work hard to manage it. Sometimes I do not find it appropriate to share like the situations I listed. However, I hope I encouraged you to take precaution in a healthy way.

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

Addressing Stigma in a Commercial

What do you think about the commercial?

I was wondering and getting upset at the fact that I have not found any commercials about mental health and then I found this one. I think it is a great commercial because it focuses on the things people living with a diagnosis endure- stigma. Stigma is misunderstanding, lack of information, prejudice, and discrimination like in the workforce or in housing. I like this commercial because it paints a realistic picture of what life can be like for some of us living with a diagnosis.

In fact, just the other day in group a friend of mine was bringing up his concern about job hunting. He said that he called a retail store and asked someone if they were hiring, the employee replied, "you cannot work you get disability." Comments like that are so ignorant, and upsetting. First, of all not everyone living with a mental health diagnosis is on disability. Second, even if someone is on disability they can still work if they choose to.

It reminds me of my own experience with discrimination...I was looking for a room to rent and found one near my school. Everything was going smooth till we discussed my income. After my potential landlord asked me why I get SSI, I told her I have schizophrenia. Then she explained to me that the house was not a good fit for me because my potential roommate may talk too much and may cause unnecessary stress to me. Lesson Learned! Never specify the illness to justify the income. Eventually I found a home and did not disclose reason for my source of income and I didn't have any problems with the landlord and roommates.

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

South Korea's "War on Dementia"

Dementia is memory loss and other interferences to the extent that daily functioning is difficult. It is caused by changes in the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia though there are several types. Dementia is a major concern in South Korea with it affecting the 65 and older population by 7 percent in 2000, to an estimated 14 percent in 2018, and 20 percent 2026.

However, South Korea's government is taking charge of dementia. Already they have created a long-term health insurance system and a dementia database. They developed the long-term insurance system by increasing the national insurance premium by 6.6 percent, to assist in the creation of centers and training to care for people with dementia. In 2009, about $1 billion government and public health insurance money was allocated toward dementia patients. While the dementia database enables relatives to register dementia patients and to receive iron on identification numbers.

The fight against dementia in South Korea extends beyond the government to the younger generations. Children are getting involved in the "war against dementia". These "dementia supporters" are learning the meaning of dementia, its symptoms, and how to care for someone with dementia.

"The 11- to 13-year-olds, for instance, were in the government’s “Aging-Friendly Comprehensive Experience Hall” outside Seoul. Besides the aging simulation exercise, they viewed a PowerPoint presentation defining dementia and were trained, in the hall’s Dementia Experience Center, to perform hand massage in nursing homes" (Pam Belluck, "Children Ease Alzheimer's in Land of Aging").

South Korea's demonstration should be mirrored for mental health concerns in the United States. More attention should be focused on mental health because it affects someone in our family and perhaps you like me. Wouldn't it be nice to have a program for youth to educate them about the basics of mental health? I believe like in many other demonstrations if we educate our youth we could not only fight stigma but help to overcome mental health.

To read the original article go to New York Times Health's Pam Belluck "Children Ease Alzheimer's in Land of Aging".

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ice Cream in December

Today was the last class for NAMI's Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course for the year. Again, Peer-to-Peer is a 10-week educational course. We studied relapse prevention, mental health education, and advance directives.

The majority of the class graduated today- Yay! We started out with about 12 participants and 8 graduated. Everyone was very enthusiastic, they really opened when it was time to share. We celebrated by eating ice cream- butter pecan and vanilla.

I would love to facilitate another class and most likely will in Spring 2011. So keep checking back for another class!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The SSNS 22nd Annual Conference Experience

The 22nd Annual Conference: Mental Illness- Why Me? Hosted by Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) was wonderful! The event took place on Friday, November 26, 2010 at Pier 21. The SSNS Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Ayer, gave me a warm welcome along with the Board of Directors. Dr. Ayer gave me a tour of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I had an opportunity to dine with the Board of Directors and a couple of other speakers for the conference. The Board gave me a beautiful gift of a photograph taken by J. Ross. In addition to that, I went to dinner with another presenter from the conference, Ms. Laura Burke and her family and friends.

A Photograph by J. Ross

Speaking at the conference enabled me to share my testimony of living with schizophrenia, and to give suggestions to other people directly affected by the illness. I titled my speech, A Distorted Perception to Reality: My Insight Into Recovery, because for me, schizophrenia forced me to think irrationally. However, the illness is manageable, and I am overcoming schizophrenia with the support of medication, support from others, and group therapy.

After delivering my speech, several people asked questions about my experience. I had a moment with some of the guests to elaborate on my experience and to exchange stories. Many of the participants thought my talk was inspirational, which I am glad because having an illness like schizophrenia can be tough, however, it is manageable.

Ashley Smith, Founder and Executive Director of Embracing My Mind, Inc.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Schizophrenia Patients and Physical Intimacy: The Mental, Emotional and Physical Benefits

The following article was written by Kristin Davis.

As our culture learns more about schizophrenia, the emphasis while addressing patients no longer resides with the disease, but instead with the individual and their needs. With many groups and organizations now devoted to recognizing the individual requirements of these sufferers, treatment now places an emphasis on their complete wellbeing. Although traditional schizophrenia treatments did little to address social and emotional aspects of patients, the combination of new medications, awareness of the disease and support groups have all spurred on these new treatment goals. While antipsychotic medications often led to many severe side effects, newer atypical antipsychotic drugs show fewer negative consequences, including reduced sexual dysfunction.

Because modern medicine identifies numerous benefits, both mental and physical, of healthy sexual activity, schizophrenic patients should consider developing bonds that allow them to have a physical relationship. Isolation and depression are among the most common ailments of individuals coping with this disease, which are greatly improved through healthy sexual contact. In the past, doctors encouraged schizophrenic patients not to engage in sexual activity. These medical professionals might have provided this discriminatory medical advice out of the desire to prevent the spread of this genetically-linked disease or a general disdain for these patients. Nevertheless, whatever the motivations of the medical community, the general lack of concern regarding schizophrenia patients took a heavy toll on those who might otherwise have benefited from the normalcy and companionship of an intimate relationship.

About 40% of patients with schizophrenia experience a major depressive episode. Furthermore, a large number of those patients attempt suicide while in the midst of this severe depression. Because healthy sex has a strong correlation to heightened levels of contentment, these patients, in particular, can benefit from the emotional release physical intimacy provides. Biological research also links sexual intercourse to stress relief and lower levels of blood pressure. Coping with a condition like schizophrenia unquestionably leads to elevated levels of stress in sufferers, which makes this ancillary benefit valuable. Emotional difficulty and agitation are two common symptoms of the disease that healthy sex could prevent.

Furthermore, sex naturally boosts self esteem, which remains a further concern for patients. Schizophrenia impacts virtually all facets of an individual’s life, which can seriously damage one’s sense of self-worth. Fortunately, regular sexual activity can help a patient recover lost self esteem or even continue to improve it. Because significant social dysfunction also commonly accompanies schizophrenic patients, intimacy remains a huge barrier to individuals suffering from this disease. However, healthy sex can improve and promote intimacy in a couple, even as this disease naturally inhibits that connection.

Physical benefits of sexual health include the maintenance of healthy weight through caloric burn. Because schizophrenic patients can experience severe weight gain as a result of their medications, this physical benefit remains especially important. In addition, sex can boost immunity, cardiovascular health and reduce pain. With the numerous health benefits that directly address common concerns of schizophrenia patients, a healthy level of sexual activity remains the safest, most convenient way for patients to improve their quality of life.

Nevertheless, schizophrenia patients should be careful to ensure they engage in responsible sex. Because of a history of social isolation, many individuals might not possess familiarity with physical intimacy or safe sex. Recent trends show a rise in sexually transmitted disease, especially among young adults, which makes proper contraceptive use especially important. Individuals need to learn about which contraceptives most effectively prevent pregnancy and disease before beginning these physical relationships.

Oral contraceptives, an outwardly suitable option, present a particularly great risk to female patients because they might hastily choose this option without proper research due to a comfort with oral medications. In addition, free family planning clinics regularly provide these drugs to individuals seeking contraception. However, these drugs have also caused severe health consequence, including an elevated risk of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism. Some oral contraceptives have shown particularly damaging results, leaving numerous patients with serious physical harm. One lawsuit involves Ann Marie Eakins, who is suing the manufacturer for blood clots she developed in her lungs. Promoted as total quality-of-life aids, drug advertisements also risk leaving schizophrenia patients with misconceptions, including the mistaken belief that these pills protect against sexually transmitted disease.

With the acknowledged dangers that accompany sexual activity, it remains important for patients to gather all the required information on how to safely begin a physical relationship before taking this step. However, with the numerous benefits associated with healthy sexuality, it remains a great option for schizophrenia patients seeking improvement in their quality of life. While many of the social stigmas regarding schizophrenia have been removed from society, the widespread belief that a physical intimacy cannot exist for a sufferer of schizophrenia remains one of the final hurdles to the full social acceptance of these individuals.

About me: My name is Kristin Davis. I am an aspiring free lance writer with a passion for women's health. My email is

IOOV Presentation on Monday, November 15th

On Monday, November 15, 2010 I facilitated a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) program called In Our Own Voice (IOOV). The program's objective is to fight stigma by sharing one's story of recovery. The presentation involves a 15 minute DVD of several testimonies that is divided by chapters that emphasize the struggle, or worse part of the illness, acceptance and coping skills, as well as a section on hopes and dreams.

The audience was very receptive to my experience of living with schizophrenia. The audience were mostly police officers, however, the program can be for any sort of audience including consumers, someone living with a mental health diagnosis, students, etc. These police officers were in a training program called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). They asked so many questions that I had to limit them- it felt really good to have their full attention and to bring about awareness.

I am excited about the program and I look forward to facilitating the next presentation. Many times I announce these presentations on Facebook, so check out our Facebook page.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) in Canada.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tips for the Family Member

Recently, I wrote about quick tips for the newly diagnosed, however, what about the family members?

If you are a relative of someone living with a diagnosis it is essential to educate yourself about the mental illness. Here are some credible websites that I personally use and recommend to others:
There are FREE support groups for family members. NAMI for example, provides these programs. Participating in a support group has many benefits. Here is an example of benefits:
  • Obtain personal referrals to resources such as treatment facilities and housing options
  • Learn from other people's experience how to cope
  • Discuss concerns with someone who has been there and who understands
If your loved one is in dire need of supervision and support do not feel bad if you need to get assistance from a hospital, independent living establishment, etc. These facilities are equipped to help your loved one stay well. It may be a good idea to get a personal referral from a support group member as to what hospital to get support.

Although the hospital stay can be hard on you and your family member living with a diagnosis there are benefits to the hospital stay. For instance, the hospital staff stabilizes your loved one through medication and/or therapy. They offer education to your loved about the mental illness. The environment is monitored if your loved one is a danger themselves.

Lastly, coming from an individual who was court-ordered to take medication, if your loved one is severely affected by their mental illness and is not functioning or is a danger to themselves or others, mandated medication compliance may need to be researched.

Get to know health care professionals to assist you in a situation where this is needed. Court-ordered medication compliance is NOT for everyone. I'll use myself as an example. When my illness got really bad, I became catatonic. I was not moving my body limbs for periods at a time. I had stopped eating, drinking, showering and speaking.

In fact, my mother thought she was going to have to take full guardianship of me because my illness was so devastating. Now, I am thankful that my family supported court-ordered medication compliance because it saved my life.

However, with BOTH medication and therapy I slowly but surely got well again to the extent that I voluntarily took my medicine as recommended by the doctor regularly and participated in support groups. DO NOT underestimate the importance of a combination of therapy, medication, and support groups- they work, for me at least.

In short, I suggest that family members get a better understanding of the illness. join a support group, do not hesitate to get support from other facilities like the hospital, and if in a severe situation research and follow through on court-ordered medication compliance. Lastly, continue to support your loved one by being there for them in whatever capacity you can take on.

These tips are only suggestions and are not to replace professional advice.

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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Benefits of Writing

In psychology class, we briefly discussed the benefits of writing. In fact, the instructor certified these findings by the studies of a man by the name of Mr. James W. Pennebaker. Mr. Pennebaker suggests that writing about traumatic events has benefits, therefore, I encourage you to 1) write, and 2) to do research on this man and his studies as it relates to writing and possibly helping those with a mental health diagnosis.

One of my coping skills involves keeping a journal. I have written about this as a coping skill in the past that works for me and it may work for you too. Although I do not journal everyday, whenever I do journal it makes me feel good because I can reflect on what I've written in the past or at the moment. Usually, I write about everyday events and my thoughts and feelings about them. I try to stay as candid and frank as possible to answer my own doubts or to make decisions.

In fact, I started this blog initially as a diary to reflect on knowledge I acquired about schizophrenia, and to manage my symptoms and moods to later discuss with my doctor. However, this blog quickly became a resource for others living with the illness as well as family members and interested parties. And I am a big advocate on reducing stigma around mental health so I welcomed questions and suggestions from readers.

Writing about my experiences with schizophrenia 1) Enables me to remember how the illness impacted my life, 2) It is a consistent reminder of why I take my medication regularly, 3) It motivates me to continue to work on my recovery, which is an ongoing process for me.

I encourage you to write about your life and everyday stresses to help you cope. And this does not have to be a chore, write whenever you have the time or need to vent, find an answer, or just to keep a record of your life. I still journal, not everyday, but it helps me to stay on track with my recovery.

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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quick Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

Recently, I spoke to someone who was newly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although they did not know what to ask me, I suggested some things for them to do...

1) Find a healthcare professional in the mental health field.

It is best to find a psychiatrist, a doctor who prescribes medication, and also a therapist. A therapist is beneficial because they provide resources and support in addition to therapy. If someone does not have health insurance look into the county mental health centers for services or referrals.

2) Apply for disability benefits.

Because mental health can be so severe to the extent that a person cannot work I strongly suggest that person apply for disability benefits. However, many times people are denied benefits the first time around therefore a person should get support from an agency that provides that service. Lastly, the benefits may take a few months so do not expect a fast turn around.

3) Find a support group.

Many people do not understand mental illness. Participating in a support allows a person to connect with other people who have the same concerns- mental health. Support groups are usually free and are led by someone who is either living with a mental illness, is a family member, or a healthcare professional. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great place to start, they provide free support groups throughout the United States.

4) Join an outpatient treatment center or clubhouse.

An outpatient treatment center or clubhouse provides many classes to help someone learn about their mental illness and other life skills. They also help people find resources they need such as healthcare, housing, employment or volunteer opportunities, and education.

All of these tips I have personally practiced and it has tremendously helped me to get to where I am today- high functioning, living independently and back in college. These tips can also help you or your loved one get on track to recovery. The benefits of these practices does not happen overnight, it takes time and even becomes a lifestyle to stay well, at least for me. I hope that you or your loved one will utilize these tips.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review: Crazy Like Us

The following book review was submitted by Eric Fergerson.

Crazy Like Us
(The Globalization of the American Psyche) is insightful and thought-provoking. It looks at the influence of Western medicine on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness around the world. The author Ethan Watters examines this process by chronicling the rise of Anorexia in Hong Kong, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Sri Lanka, Schizophrenia in Zanzibar and Depression in Japan.

Mr. Watters travels the globe to meet with researchers involved in studying these illnesses in their indigenous cultures. He looks at the socio-cultural, historical, etiological and epidemiology of these illnesses. He uses first person accounts along with personal and doctor interviews to develop his thesis. He does not conclude that Western medicine is simply either inferior or superior to indigenous belief systems in regards to ways of healing and recovery. In fact, he states "I have tried to avoid making the cliched argument that other, more traditional cultures necessarily have it right when it comes to treating mental illness. All cultures struggle with these intractable diseases with varying degrees of compassion and cruelty, equanimity and fear. My point is not that they necessarily have it right - only that they have it different."

On a personal level I truly enjoyed this book. As a student of psychology viewing Mr. Watter's theory from multiple perspectives I was thoroughly engaged and provoked. This book is a must read for anyone interested in a cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of the diversity of ideas surrounding the treatment and diagnosis of mental illness around the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

EMM Website Update

The Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM) website was updated, please visit the site to see changes, click here.

The mission of EMM is to provide peer support, advocacy, and education to low income and homeless individuals living with serious mental health concerns.

The group provides recovery support groups and other programs to consumers and people affected by mental health. All programs are offered in the Atlanta metropolitan area FREE of charge. However, most programs are closed meetings, not open to the public.

If you would like your organization to provide EMM programs please contact Ashley Smith, Executive Director, by email: or phone: 1-888-839-3191.

Thank you for your observation. To learn more about schizophrenia visit EMM, NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS, Canada).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist for You

The following entry was submitted by Kitty Holman:

For those who suffer from mental illnesses like schizophrenia, medication can be effective in alleviating the most serious symptoms, but lifestyle management and substantive therapy go further in treating the illness long-term. Since therapy can play a key role in achieving and maintaining stability, it's very important that you be selective in choosing a therapist. While every licensed therapist does have professional credentials, the styles and personalities of each different therapist are more suited to some patients than others. Here are a few tips for finding a therapist that meets your specific needs.

1. Get recommendations from friends or family.

To get a better idea of what a therapist will be like before you meet him or her, ask your friends, acquaintances, or family for recommendations. Word-of-mouth is often the best way to begin an initial search for a therapist because you'll know exactly how the potential therapist works based on personal insight.

2. Don't be afraid to shop around.

Many people will simply go with the first therapist they talk to. However, you should see therapy as an investment in your personal well-being. If you don't "click" with the first therapist you talk to, see a few others before deciding on any one.

3. Find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable.

Since the things you talk about during successful therapy sessions are of a highly personal nature, you'll need to be very comfortable sharing details about your life that you wouldn't normally divulge to other people. If you feel hesitant to tell your therapist about any sort of challenge you're facing in your life, then this is a sign that you might need to look for someone else.

4. The office environment is also important.

While a therapist you are considering may be a perfect fit in all respects, the environment in which the sessions will be conducted is important, too. Take note about how you feel when you enter the therapist's office. Is it an environment in which you feel safe and secure enough to talk freely?

5. Ask the therapist what her specialties are.

Therapy has developed hundreds of different approaches over the years--from psychoanalysis to cognitive therapy to everything in between. Do some research and find out what method most appeals to you. Also ask the therapist what she hopes to accomplish with her patients, what she sees is the role of therapy in general, and anything else that you can think of that you wish to know before deciding.

These are just a few considerations to take into account while looking for the perfect therapist. Above all, remember that it isn't a decision that you should make lightly. Therapy can be as effective as you want it to be, but finding someone with whom you can establish a long-term relationship is most important. Also, if after a few sessions you feel that the therapy is largely ineffective, then don't hesitate in finding someone new. You'd be surprised by how life-changing therapy can be, provided you take the right steps in the decision-making process.

This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of nursing schools. She welcomes your comments at her email Id:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Denial in the Family Member--A Different Perspective

Since my diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in 2007 I have participated in several support groups and trainings to be a facilitator. Therefore, I have heard many of my peers discuss different concerns from side effects of medications to lack of support, and many other important matters.

Even though what I am about to discuss may NOT apply to you as a family member or consumer (a person living with mental health concerns) it occurs quite frequently, and thus is the reason to bring it to one's attention...I am talking about denial. Denial in the sense that it is refusal to believe or accept a person's diagnosis of mental illness. Denial comes in many different forms for both the consumer and the family member.

In fact, denial is a manifestation of stigma. In short, stigma is criticism of a person on the grounds of their affiliation with a group (that being mental illness) based on lack of understanding or stereotypes. For example, common misconceptions about schizophrenia is that all people who have the disorder have split personality and/or are violent, this is NOT true. Finally, I am going to elaborate on denial of the family member(s) for now based either actual experience or testimonies I have heard from peers.

Unfortunately, a common myth is that mental illness is caused by bad parenting. In my experience, people still believe this to be true. After my nervous breakdown which led doctors to diagnosis me with schizophrenia my family members were in disbelief at the occurrence of mental illness in their Ashley. And some of them believed there was someone to blame for my mental health condition and that person was my mother. This caused a huge strain on family relationships for a while and slowed the process of understanding of what having schizophrenia means for the consumer and family member.

A common, yet NOT universal form of denial is avoiding the situation all together. Some members of the family choose not to participate in the recovery stage because of the stigma associated with mental illness. They are more concerned with the way they will appear to other people than their relative's wellness. Therefore, they opt out to discuss anything related to mental illness, and in some cases do not even want to be seen in public with the consumer.

In addition to that, some people hinder their relative's social life or life in general because they believe their mental illness will not allow them to participate in regular daily activities despite the fact that they are coping with the illness with the necessary treatments. Accordingly, some family members make up reasons why their relative living with a mental health concern cannot go to some places or do some things. For example, some relatives believe it is inappropriate for the consumer to attend college, because they assume it is too difficult. Nowadays, colleges make accommodations for people with disabilities. In fact, I am in college studyig psychology to continue to be an advocate for mental health. Going to college or having a career is possible living with mental illness with treatment and support.

Ultimately, the above examples of varying forms of denial is unacceptable and ludicrous. If I described you, change is possible. Here are some ways a family member can be supportive of the consumer:
  • Research the mental illness

  • Talk to them

  • Show interest in their lives

  • Spend time with them

  • Be understanding of their symptoms and struggles

If you would like to perform research and to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), the Naional Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Schizophrenia Basics

Every so often I like to reiterate my understanding of schizophrenia to ensure that my readers understand the basic information about the illness...

In my experience and personal research on schizophrenia it is a complex brain disorder that affects thoughts, judgment, and sense of reality. Now, I will share with you some of my experiences with the illness.

Before I had knowledge of my mental health condition I experienced diverse symptoms of schizophrenia including the following: A belief that I had special abilities to read other people's minds, extreme paranoia in that I believed that other people were trying to harm me by poisoning my food (even family members!). The fear of others trying to kill me, by serving tainted food, encouraged me not to eat- anything. This led me to lose a lot of weight, at one point I weighed under hundred pounds, which is really bad for my height of 5"5- if you can imagine.

In addition to that, I heard multiple mean-spirited, characterized voices that I rationalized by believing they were either coming from my cell phone or from other people around me. I remember one voice said: "You are a dishonor to your family!" This made me feel very sad and confused because I did not understand why the people (voices in my mind) said that.

I saw strange-looking people. One particular recurring hallucination was an elderly man on an antique bicycle following me. This man followed me on several different occasions. On top of that, I thought that people were spying on me. And because my thoughts were so distorted I remember thinking to myself if I can smoke a cigarette- which I hate- I could confuse them into thinking I am someone else and they may leave me alone. But that's not where it stops, I removed my eye glasses (which I need to see) to further disguise myself. Finally, I ditched my cell phone and Bible which I carried with me everywhere. I left the cell phone at a restaurant because I thought it was bugged and had a tracking device in it. I thought the Bible would give me away so I got rid of my most prized piece and left that too. I could go on and on about my symptoms, but I won't because I don't want to lose you to the fact that it can be so discouraging.

Therefore, I will say that my treatment (medication, therapy, and support) does wonders, which is a blessing from God. Despite my mental illness, I am able to perform like everyone else because of my treatment. After three of my diagnosis, I am now attending college again, facilitating support groups, and living on my own.

While I accept the fact that I need medication to cope, because my illness was so severe, I do not agree that everybody who has mental illness needs to take medication. I feel this way because there are various levels of severity in mental illness depending on the individual. And nowadays, there are alternative forms of treatment.

Did this entry give you insight into schizophrenia? Did you learn something new?

Thank you for you for studying this topic, which is so important to me. If you want to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Promoting Wellness with Support Groups

In group today, I reiterated my background in receiving mental health treatment at the center where I receive care...I have come a long way! I re-introduced myself because we had a guest, an intern studying social work.

I remember just two years ago I was struggling with isolation and not interacting with many people outside of my family. In general, isolation is a concern for people living with a mental illness because it is a common symptom. For me, I was comfortable being alone in the confinement of my home with the Internet and my online scrabble games and music. However, I desired more social activity besides family so I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and to participate in all of the group sessions the center had to offer.

And now I am functioning at an even higher level than before, and I am thankful for the treatment and therapy I have received from the mental health care staff, family and peer support. I strongly recommend group therapy to others who want to enhance their social skills and decrease risk of isolation; and also, to improve their level of functioning.

In my experience, the support groups are an outlet to keep it real and to get various perspectives on everyday struggles and accomplishments. The support groups that I participate in are like a family to me now- we share our concerns and joys in a respectful manner.

If you want to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Medication Adherence and Violence Management in Schizophrenic Patients

The following article was written by Alexis Bonari:

Medication Adherence and Violence Management in Schizophrenic Patients

Violence is not a widespread problem among people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but when it does accompany schizophrenia (about 16% of the time), it can become a significant issue. When violent schizophrenic cases arise, it can be difficult for doctors to prescribe a specific course of action because little is known about the efficacy of violence management medication in schizophrenic patients. To address this problem, Dr. Jeffrey Swanson and a team of researchers studied the effects of four different antipsychotic medications on a cohort of schizophrenic patients over a period of six months. In their research, they hoped to find out how medicated patients’ violent tendencies changed as compared to patients who refused to adhere to doctors’ medication recommendations.

Reducing Schizophrenic Violence: Predictors and Solutions

Swanson and his team found that there were several consistent factors that could predict violence in patients with schizophrenia. This information could be valuable to doctors who are trying to decide whether or not to prescribe antipsychotic medication, as not all schizophrenic patients require it. The violence predictors identified by these researchers are as follows: economic deprivation, living with family or others rather than living alone, history of childhood conduct problems, substance abuse, and history of violent victimization. Specifically, patients who had experienced childhood conduct problems were statistically unresponsive to antipsychotic medication, while others were successfully treated. A strong correlation was established between violence reduction and medication regimen adherence by patients without childhood conduct problems. Patients with negative results in psychosis tests also experienced greater success with violence management medication.

Relative Success of Medications in Violence Management

In terms of the medication itself, the four different varieties performed very similarly. However, the first-generation medication was slightly more effective than the second-generation drugs in treating the cohort of patients who adhered to their recommended medication schedule. This finding is in direct contrast to the assumption that new medications are more effective than older ones and may help doctors to make more informed choices.

The researchers found that patients who took their medication as recommended experienced a 43% decline in violent tendencies. However, the cohort of patients who did not complete the six-month medication regimen experienced only a 27% reduction in violence. The results of the study showed that, in addition to antipsychotic medication, treatment adherence and social functioning are important components of successful violence management. In order to address all angles of schizophrenic violence, interventions must be made in therapy and social support as well as in antipsychotic medication. Although medication cannot act on its own, its role has been proven valuable in schizophrenic violence management.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She often can be found blogging about education and scholarships for college. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Swanson, Jeffrey W., PhD et al. “Comparison of antipsychotic medication effects on reducing violence in people with schizophrenia.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 193 (2008): 37-43.

Photo: Public Domain

Friday, October 1, 2010

Support in College and Current NAMI Projects

Recently, I brought my health concern to the Office of Disability at my college and it worked in my favor- I received the support that I needed and I did not feel belittled, misunderstood, or stupid. There were counselors that took my health concerns seriously and wanted to help me succeed. They offered additional tutoring, classroom accommodations, and a separate testing area, which I did utilize.

I am not sure if all colleges have a disability office, however, it is worth looking into for additional support. For those that are interested, there is usually a process such as getting a letter from your doctor. The letter has a lot information about the individual with the mental illness, including diagnosis, special accommodations, etc. Therefore, if you would like to receive more support from your college look into the guidelines of the disability center.

Finally, college is going okay for me. I am still adjusting to school and participating in groups. In fact, I performed my first NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation and I am leading a new NAMI Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course. In short, the In Our Own Voice presentation is about 1-1.5 hours on a person's experience with mental illness. I did this presentation for a Crisis Intervention Team training for police officers. I had a wonderful experience and they really enjoyed learning about my story.

While, Peer-to-Peer is a 10-session class about mental health information, coping skills, and relapse prevention planning. Orientation was yesterday and everybody seems very enthusiastic about the class, which makes me feel even more excited about mentoring the group.

If you would like to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting Help to get to the Next Step

Some people would come to me and ask for advice on how to get through a phase of schizophrenia, like overcoming a lot of sleep and not interacting with people. However, sleeping a lot could be a side effect of medication or not having anything to do, like in my experiences. I do not give medical advice when these situations arise, because I am not a Doctor, however, I do mention experiences and things I did that worked for me. Furthermore, it makes me recall my own experiences and bizarre thinking processes I used to believe.

For instance, after I moved back home with my mother I became very comfortable not doing anything but either sleeping or staying on the computer all day. I did not socialize with other people outside of the family which eventually bothered me. Therefore, I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and to interact with other people by attending group therapy. Over time my decision to go to group turned out to solve my problem. Accordingly I got more than I intended. I gained more education on my mental illness by participating in group, socialized with group participants, and I learned to trust my therapist even more. Now, I am a social butterfly. I talk a lot everyday and network with others in the mental health field.

Recently, I remembered I used to have a problem showering. This can be a problem for many people living with schizophrenia at one point in their illness, but not all people with schizophrenia have this problem. It is not that I did not want to take a shower, I did but my thinking processes would not allow me to carry out the task. Therefore, I chose not to shower because I thought the soap would burn my skin. Having an illness like schizophrenia distorts one's thinking processes. When in reality the soap did NOT burn my skin, but was, in fact, cheap, and made my skin very dry.

Moreover, I thought I had a connection with God and that He made me immune to NOT stink and to NOT get sick by not showering. However, I later realized that was not the case. At times, nurses would ask me to shower because "it was starting to become offensive." And I would be thankful that they asked me to shower because I did not have the initiative to perform that task.

Another problem I had was not talking much. I did not have anything to say. During group sessions in the institution I would just sit there during group therapy and wait till the session was over. I understood that I had to attend group therapy, however, I did not have to participate. I was very patient as well. Although in the beginning I did not want to participate in group therapy in the long run it was very beneficial. Therefore in my experience going to group therapy has many benefits and having someone to help me get through the things I found slightly difficult helped me a lot.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alternative Treatments for Mental Illness

The following article was written by a guest writer, Maryanne Osberg.

No matter how much we learn about mental illness, its causes and its uncontrollable nature, it is still a stigma for the sufferer. They’re not just wracked by mental demons, they also have to deal with being ostracized by society and sometimes even their family members. Some forms of mental illness are caused by old age – Alzheimer’s and dementia are now becoming even more common nowadays; others are caused by trauma – the sudden loss of loved ones through accidents or breakdown of relationships leads people to act irrationally and become mentally affected; and yet others come about because of neglect and loneliness – people who live alone with hardly any contact with fellow human beings tend to become mentally unstable and forget their people skills over a period of time.

Whatever the reason for mental illness, it is imperative that the affected person be treated immediately. Drugs and therapy are two standard and well-accepted forms of treatment for mental illnesses ranging from dementia to depression. However, there are other alternative treatment forms that are competent and free of the side effects that are associated with drugs, and if the patient is open to trying them, they can be used effectively to help improve the quality of their life:

Emotional conditioning: The condition of people with depression and similar forms of mental illness improves when you’re able to infuse in them some self-confidence and the ability to believe in themselves. This mental conditioning can be done by a qualified therapist, or better still, by the loving care and support offered by friends, family members and co-workers. The patient needs to be encouraged to take up activities that boost their feeling of well-being and their happiness quotient – if they are creative, they could paint or write; if they like physical activity, exercise and chores like gardening help relax both body and mind; and if work helps, they can be encouraged to keep busy at the office. The key to emotional conditioning is that it has to be tailored according to each individual, based on what they like and are comfortable doing.

Yoga, acupuncture and other complementary methods: Some people find that yoga, Ayurveda, acupuncture and other traditional practices of medicine help people with mental illness when used in conjunction with their regular medication. They’re able to relax and avoid the thoughts that drive them to depression or manic behavior. They gain more control over their bodies and their minds. And they feel at peace with themselves and the world at large.

Social activities: Most forms of mental illness are caused by loneliness or a sense of being unloved and unwanted. An active social life helps prevent the onset of such kinds of depression and also helps alleviate mental illness when it starts to manifest itself. When you stay active and meet and interact with people on a professional and personal basis, you feel good about yourself and your brain gets a positive boost of uplifting energy.

Besides this, the right diet and nutrition and regular exercise can help bring about some routine to a mentally ill person’s life and hasten their journey back to normalcy.

This guest post is contributed by Maryanne Osberg, who writes on the topic of RN to MSN Online. She can be reached at mary.anne579(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

How to Cope with Dark Seasons

I aim to empower those affected by mental illness. However, the truth about recovery is there will be many dark seasons. Still, I hope peopl...