Friday, July 27, 2012

How is Schizophrenia Portrayed in Media

Last week's Colorado theater shooting tragedy. When I first heard about this incident I assumed media and the public would identify schizophrenia; a brain disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms loosely categorized as either negative symptoms, positive symptoms or cognitive symptoms. Schizophrenia, schizophrenia- the media is doctor and authority over correct diagnosis of individuals and their actions, overnight- I am NOT surprised! Immediately, I understood the consequences- STIGMA- shame, fear, and suffering in silence, for individuals living with this medical condition and for their families and loved ones. Initially, I did not want to address the issue because I know how it will manifest in media and ultimately in the eyes of the United States society and beyond. Remember the Arizona shooting- "schizophrenia" was immediately suspected... To me, schizophrenia- the scapegoat for horrific crimes and everything negative, in media! Sigh... So disheartening.

Well, media needs to also publicize individuals living with the medical condition in a REAL life manner- holding jobs of diverse capacities- and higher educational degrees, and wonderful talents; John Nash, Elyn Saks, Nathaniel Ayers, etc., being family-oriented, respecting laws, supporting self and peers, volunteering, managing recovery, and living NORMAL lives... Let me share with you a positive story- the one not mentioned in the headlines- about three individuals coping with schizophrenia; visit to watch the short documentary, LIVING WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA: A CALL FOR HOPE AND RECOVERY... I apologize to my peers and their families for what they are enduring as a result the Colorado theater shooting; the blame game, fear, embarrassment, and SILENCE. But there is HOPE. When we open dialogue about mental illness and educate ourselves, we are breaking the cycle of stigma- please, please educate yourself and know the truth about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, NOT the fast-selling gossip and myths!

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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Patient/Doctor Relationship- Barriers to Treatment and Tips for Better Care

What are some of the barriers to care in the African American community, and shared barriers for all populations? How can individuals receive adequate treatment?

I will recommend a reading that may share some factors and answers to these questions, I will also share my experiences with doctors, and what I've learned in order to support others on their journey to maintaining recovery.

Recently, I read an article about mental health disparities on African Americans in California. To read that article click here. This article particularly interested me because the study took place in California- where I was also diagnosed.

One of the experts who commented on this concern, Dr. Annelle Primm, who I've also had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussion with in last year's NABJ event in Washington, D.C., said "due to lack of cultural understanding," African American patients are being misdiagnosed.

However, many individuals- not only African Americans- living a mental health diagnosis are being misdiagnosed. Yes, cultural competence may play a role for African Americans, but also, honesty about symptoms and other concerns with one's doctor could be a contributing factor to inadequate information leading to misdiagnosis for peers living with mental health.

Reflecting on my early mental health professional relationships- I was very uncomfortable with my first doctor. I had few doctors before receiving an official diagnosis of schizophrenia. I remember having racing thoughts and hearing voices while the doctor asked me several questions including whether I heard voices or not. Because I didn't feel I could trust him, I lied and said I did not hear voices and tried questioning him and changing the topic.

The next doctor I came into contact with, I felt like they did not understand me, and did not listen to my cry for help when I cooperated with them by complaining about side effects. The side effects of my medication made me feel jittery or excited and the need to stay in consistent motion, even when I was tired, I stayed awake and kicked my legs to get relief. I tried a few other medications and experienced more side effects.

As a result, I brought my concern to another doctor during another shift to get the attention I needed. The doctor that did not listen to my desire for help with medication frustrated me, and shut me down. I did not want to interact with her nor express myself anymore... I've had good and bad experiences with doctors, but over the process of receiving treatment I've learned it is best to be honest with my doctor and to continue to seek additional help if my needs are not being met.

I think the African American community living with mental health are not receiving the right medical support because of  lack of understanding. This lack of understanding can appear through the belief that mental illness is evidence of lack of faith, which is not true. Mental illness is not a character flaw or spiritual battle. Therefore, it is imperative individuals living with mental health concerns seek help from mental health professionals, and also faith-based communities as an additional resource not sole medical guidance and support.

Evidence of lack of understanding includes barriers to care outlined in the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (click here for NAMI reference)- mistrust and fear of treatment. Many individuals do not understand how mental health medication works. Although I am still learning the process of different medications, I do know that treatment requires a few weeks, before taking an effect on one's relief, wellness, and improvement- for some that is a short few weeks, and for others it is several long weeks.

Another important fact is individuals on medication can still relapse despite having a regular medication regimen, because of triggers such as incidents, places, people, or stress, which could may make symptoms worse. It is critical that patients share their medical history and other medications and herbs, they are taking because this can dictate which medication the doctor wants to give, or can prescribe given accurate information.

Finally, some concerns are shared by all populations including: poor quality of care, and lack of access to mental health treatment. I've heard from peers their frustration with health care professionals because they are not listening nor doing their job well. A lot of peers feel like they are not treated uniquely in order to best meet their needs.

If I was the patient with concerns such as these I would learn as much as I can about my diagnosis. I would want a family member or a peer mentor such as a Certified Peer Specialist, to attend my doctor appointments with me so that they can advocate for me.

Also, I would go to appointments with a list of questions and make sure I received the information I needed with understanding- not all the unnecessary medical jargon. One of my questions may be about additional resources like programs that discount or take on the cost of my medication, and peer support activities and programs, to help reduce isolation and to create a support network.

Were these tips helpful to you? What other questions would you ask your doctor, if newly diagnosed, during a visit?

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Article and Screening of the Living with Schizophrenia Documentary

I had a busy week with interviews about my personal experiences with schizophrenia including that with Ms. Jackie Jones from Black America Web, and the the screening of the documentary Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery which was held at the Benjamin Steakhouse in New York City on Thursday, July 19, 2012. To watch the half hour film about three individuals living with schizophrenia- the misconceptions, struggles, and recovery, visit

The interview with Ms. Jones was very conversational. She asked me a few questions about my experiences and wrote a very informative article which I am excited about. Here is how the article began:

Before Ashley Smith gave a presentation before a group of law enforcement officials about schizophrenia, one of the officials had told the audience before she arrived that “there is no hope” for a person with the mental illness.

Fortunately, she wasn’t in the room when he made the remarks.

When Smith finished her talk, the official came up to her and told her he was “blown away.”

“Afterwards, he told me he hadn’t seen a presentation go so well and it was an education; he was astonished,” said Smith, who is one of the people with the condition featured in “Living with Schizophrenia,” a documentary premiering  8:30-10 a.m. Thursday at Benjamin Steakhouse on E. 41st Street in New York City.

“It’s a manageable illness,” Smith said. “There are a few misconceptions out there, that there is no hope for schizophrenia; all people with schizophrenia are violent; it’s caused by poor parenting. It’s not true.

To read this article in its entirety visit or click here.

The screening of the documentary was intimate and unique in that it gave me and opportunity to meet with and to discuss my story in greater detail with a group of journalists over brunch, and also to learn about them. The Benjamin Steakhouse set aside a private area for us to view and to discuss the documentary on their upper level, and to eat well, which I was very pleased with. Overall, the event was eloquent.

Myself along with two individuals, Josh and Rebecca, also living with the illness and who are featured in the documentary participated in the screening, which was moderated by Dr. Xavier Amador, one of the experts also featured in this film. Dr. Amador was very well spoken asking myself, and others featured in the documentary, about our experiences sharing our stories and the messages we want to share about schizophrenia from our perspectives, and that of a caregiver- Rebecca's mother Claire. He shared recent studies from different online resources, and his personal connection to his study and practice of schizophrenia.

I really enjoyed meeting with the other individuals also featured in the film. I liked hearing everyone's perspective on sharing their story, messages, and journey, it reinforces that there are many faces to schizophrenia, and by sharing our stories we can overcome schizophrenia and the stigma associated with it.

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

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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...