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).

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...