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).

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...