Thursday, March 24, 2011

NABJ Panel on Schizophrenia Awareness-- The Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 11, 2011

Whose to Blame

Whose to blame for my mental illness? Is it me, is you?... I presented a NAMI In Our Own Voice program for another Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) class yesterday. After the presentation, one of the class participants came to me and told me he felt responsible for my mental health. He worked at my old college and felt like he or someone from the institution should have been there for me when the symptoms of Schizophrenia seemed to have got the best of me. While I attended that school, I did not have insight into my mental health. In fact, I did not even know what a mental illness was!

Even when the symptoms of Schizophrenia tormented me, I did not know it was beyond my control. Many times, I prayed and meditated for peace of mind and for the angels to protect me as I go to my destination. I was very religious and had delusions that I was prophet of God. I prayed for protection because I felt like I was fighting a spiritual battle everyday. In other words, spiritual welfare between me and the world.

Back then in school, I felt emotionally exhausted, and I also felt like a victim because I thought professors and peers were gossiping about me. I was extremely paranoid. Paranoia is another symptom of Schizophrenia in my experience with the illness. Eventually, I began to hate my school, because I did not feel like I can connect with my peers anymore. I also isolated from family because I did not think that would understand my concerns.

Despite my frustration and lack of understanding as to what was happening to me, I never blamed anyone or myself for that matter for my mental illness when I did become aware of my diagnosis. If anything I just wanted to strive for my old life- college, family life, and independence.

Should we blame community, family, friends, and ourselves for mental illness? What about the good Samaritan idea. If we see someone who looks disoriented or distant should it be up to us to check on them and seek resources and support for them?

I remember while I was going through an episode before I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, I was hearing voices and wondering about aimlessly. I called family and friends on the phone at a gas station, but the voices continued to infringe on my livelihood. While outside a stranger confronted me. He gave me a ride to a nearby mall at my request and then called the police because I seemed disoriented and confused. When the police confronted me they did not understand what was going on so they called my family and sent me home. Thinking about that incident, I think the man was acting as a good Samaritan. I am glad that he called the police because I would not have known how to return home, because my symptoms were so bad. However, I wish that police officer was trained to distinguish someone with a mental health concern, it may have prevented or helped in my crisis stage.

If we all acted as good Samaritans can we make a difference in someone's recovery from mental health?.... I do not believe that we, or I should, blame others for my mental illness because there is no known cause for the diagnosis and it does not have anything to do with my character. A common misconception about the illness is that it is caused by dysfunctional families or poor parenting- this is NOT true. Schizophrenia is brain disease and its causes are unknown. However, genetics and environmental factors do play a role in the onset of the illness.

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

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