You Are Not a Burden, and 4 Other Things I Wish I’d Known About Mental Illness

Here is an awesome blog about mental illness from a blog I just started following a few days ago. I encourage you to read it.

Let's Queer Things Up!

The image features an androgynous person, trapped inside a pill bottle, looking at a map that says Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

This might as well be part two, because quite a while back, I wrote a pretty exhaustive list of things that newly-diagnosed folks with bipolar might want to know. This might just be an ongoing series where readers have the privilege of learning from my mistakes, because I’ve made more than a few along the way. Lucky you!

While I’m writing from the perspective of someone who grapples with bipolar and generalized anxiety, I feel like much of this could be applied to other mental health struggles as well. I hope this is helpful to anyone who needs it.

Lastly, a content warning: There is some discussion about sexual assault and consent, so if that could be traumatizing for you, feel free to skip over #2.

So let’s chat! Here are some things I wish I’d known about having a mental illness:

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Mental Health Awarness Month: Schizophrenia

May is mental health awareness month. When I started this blog in late May of last year (2014) it was in response to how I as an advocate, am going do my part to help stomp out the stigma of mental illness. In fact, it still is the goal of this blog to educate other’s on mental illness in hopes that it will reach enough people to make a dent in the stigma that mental illness brings.  I’ve realized over the last year that I haven’t done much educating on mental illness with the exception of me blogging about my personal experience with a mental illness and how those with a mental illness are productive members of society.

With that being said, I decided that today’s educational topic will be Schizophrenia. Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional and am unable to diagnosis people if you think you have Schizophrenia or another mental health diagnosis please seek out professional help from a doctor or mental health professional. The information I am about to share on Schizophrenia, with you is info I got from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website at https://nami.org/.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It is a complex, long-term medical illness, affecting about 1% of Americans. Although schizophrenia can occur at any age, the average age of onset tends to be in the late teens to the early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women. It is uncommon for schizophrenia to be diagnosed in a person younger than 12 or older than 40. It is possible to live well with schizophrenia.

Symptoms

It can be difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in teens. This is because the first signs can include a change of friends, a drop in grades, sleep problems, and irritability—common and nonspecific adolescent behavior. Other factors include isolating oneself and withdrawing from others, an increase in unusual thoughts and suspicions, and a family history of psychosis. In young people who develop schizophrenia, this stage of the disorder is called the “prodromal” period.

With any condition, it’s essential to get a comprehensive medical evaluation in order to obtain the best diagnosis. For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, some of the following symptoms are present in the context of reduced functioning for a least 6 months:

Hallucinations. These include a person hearing voices, seeing things, or smelling things others can’t perceive. The hallucination is very real to the person experiencing it, and it may be very confusing for a loved one to witness. The voices in the hallucination can be critical or threatening. Voices may involve people that are known or unknown to the person hearing them.

Delusions. These are false beliefs that don’t change even when the person who holds them is presented with new ideas or facts. People who have delusions often also have problems concentrating, confused thinking, or the sense that their thoughts are blocked.

Negative symptoms are ones that diminish a person’s abilities. Negative symptoms often include being emotionally flat or speaking in a dull, disconnected way. People with the negative symptoms may be unable to start or follow through with activities, show little interest in life, or sustain relationships. Negative symptoms are sometimes confused with clinical depression.

Cognitive issues/disorganized thinking. People with the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia often struggle to remember things, organize their thoughts or complete tasks. Commonly, people with schizophrenia have anosognosia or “lack of insight.” This means the person is unaware that he has the illness, which can make treating or working with him much more challenging.

Causes

Research suggests that schizophrenia may have several possible causes:

  • Genetics. Schizophrenia isn’t caused by just one genetic variation, but a complex interplay of genetics and environmental influences. While schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the general population, having a history of family psychosis greatly increases the risk. Schizophrenia occurs at roughly 10% of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent or sibling. The highest risk occurs when an identical twin is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The unaffected twin has a roughly 50% chance of developing the disorder.
  • Environment. Exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth, particularly in the first and second trimesters has been shown to increase the risk of schizophrenia. Inflammation or autoimmune diseases can also lead to increased immune system
  • Brain chemistry. Problems with certain brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate, may contribute to schizophrenia. Neurotransmitters allow brain cells to communicate with each other. Networks of neurons are likely involved as well.
  • Substance use. Some studies have suggested that taking mind-altering drugs during teen years and young adulthood can increase the risk of schizophrenia. A growing body of evidence indicates that smoking marijuana increases the risk of psychotic incidents and the risk of ongoing psychotic experiences. The younger and more frequent the use, the greater the risk. Another study has found that smoking marijuana led to earlier onset of schizophrenia and often preceded the manifestation of the illness.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing schizophrenia is not easy. Sometimes using drugs, such as methamphetamines or LSD, can cause a person to have schizophrenia-like symptoms. The difficulty of diagnosing this illness is compounded by the fact that many people who are diagnosed do not believe they have it. Lack of awareness is a common symptom of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and greatly complicates treatment.

While there is no single physical or lab test that can diagnosis schizophrenia, a health care provider who evaluates the symptoms and the course of a person’s illness over six months can help ensure a correct diagnosis. The health care provider must rule out other factors such as brain tumors, possible medical conditions and other psychiatric diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder.

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person must have two or more of the following symptoms occurring persistently in the context of reduced functioning:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior
  • Negative symptoms

Delusions or hallucinations alone can often be enough to lead to a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Identifying it as early as possible greatly improves a person’s chances of managing the illness, reducing psychotic episodes, and recovering. People who receive good care during their first psychotic episode are admitted to the hospital less often, and may require less time to control symptoms than those who don’t receive immediate help. The literature on the role of medicines early in treatment is evolving, but we do know that psychotherapy is essential.

People can describe symptoms in a variety of ways. How a person describes symptoms often depends on the cultural lens she is looking through. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be misdiagnosed, probably due to differing cultural or religious beliefs or language barriers. Any person who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia should try to work with a health care professional that understands his or her cultural background and shares the same expectations for treatment.

Treatment

There is no cure for schizophrenia, but it can be treated and managed in several ways.

With medication, psychosocial rehabilitation, and family support, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be reduced. People with schizophrenia should get treatment as soon as the illness starts showing, because early detection can reduce the severity of their symptoms.

Recovery while living with schizophrenia is often seen over time, and involves a variety of factors including self-learning, peer support, school and work and finding the right supports and treatment.

Medication

Typically, a health care provider will prescribe antipsychotics to relieve symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations. Due to lack of awareness of having an illness and the serious side effects of medication used to treat schizophrenia, people who have been prescribed them are often hesitant to take them.

First Generation (typical) Antipsychotics

These medications can cause serious movement problems that can be short (dystonia) or long term (called tardive dyskinesia), and also muscle stiffness. Other side effects can also occur.

Second Generation (atypical) Antipsychotics

These medications are called atypical because they are less likely to block dopamine and cause movement disorders. They do, however, increase the risk of weight gain and diabetes. Changes in nutrition and exercise, and possibly medication intervention, can help address these side effects.

One unique second generation antipsychotic medication is called clozapine. It is the only FDA approved antipsychotic medication for the treatment of refractory schizophrenia and has been the only one indicated to reduce thoughts of suicide. However, it does have multiple medical risks in addition to these benefits. Read a more complete discussion of these risk and benefits.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for some people with affective disorders. With more serious conditions, including those with psychosis, additional cognitive therapy is added to basic CBT (CBTp). CBTp helps people develop coping strategies for persistent symptoms that do not respond to medicine.

Supportive psychotherapy is used to help a person process his experience and to support him in coping while living with schizophrenia. It is not designed to uncover childhood experiences or activate traumatic experiences, but is rather focused on the here and now.

Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET) works to promote cognitive functioning and confidence in one’s cognitive ability. CET involves a combination of computer based brain training and group sessions. This is an active area of research in the field at this time.

Psychosocial Treatments

People who engage in therapeutic interventions often see improvement, and experience greater mental stability. Psychosocial treatments enable people to compensate for or eliminate the barriers caused by their schizophrenia and learn to live successfully. If a person participates in psychosocial rehabilitation, she is more likely to continue taking their medication and less likely to relapse. Some of the more common psychosocial treatments include:

  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) provides comprehensive treatment for people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Unlike other community-based programs that connect people with mental health or other services, ACT provides highly individualized services directly to people with mental illness. Professionals work with people with schizophrenia and help them meet the challenges of daily life. ACT professionals also address problems proactively, prevent crises, and ensure medications are taken.
  • Peer support groups like NAMI Peer-to-Peer encourage people’s involvement in their recovery by helping them work on social skills with others. The Illness Management Recovery (IMR) model is an evidence-based approach that emphasizes setting goals and acquiring skills to meet those goals.

Complementary Health Approaches

Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, have shown some promise for treating and managing schizophrenia. Some researchers believe that omega-3 may help treat mental illness because of its ability to help replenish neurons and connections in affected areas of the brain.

Additional Concerns

Physical Health. People with schizophrenia are subject to many medical risks, including diabetes and cardiovascular problems, and also smoking and lung disease. For this reason, coordinated and active attention to medical risks is essential.

Substance Abuse. About 25% of people with schizophrenia also abuse substances such as drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse can make the treatments for schizophrenia less effective, make people less likely to follow their treatment plans, and even worsen their symptoms.

Helping Yourself

If you have schizophrenia, the condition can exert control over your thoughts, interfere with functioning and if not treated, lead to a crisis. Here are some ways to help manage your illness.

  • Manage Stress. Stress can trigger psychosis and make the symptoms of schizophrenia worse, so keeping it under control is extremely important. Know your limits, both at home and at work or school. Don’t take on more than you can handle and take time to yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Try to get plenty of sleep. When you’re on medication, you most likely need even more sleep than the standard eight hours. Many people with schizophrenia have trouble with sleep, but lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and avoiding caffeine can help.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. It’s indisputable that substance abuse affects the benefits of medication and worsens symptoms. If you have a substance abuse problem, seek help.
  • Maintain connections. Having friends and family involved in your treatment plan can go a long way towards recovery. People living with schizophrenia often have a difficult time in social situations, so surrounding yourself with people who understand this can make the transition back into daily social life smoother. If you feel you can, consider joining a schizophrenia support group or getting involved with a local church, club, or other organization.

If you live with a mental health condition, learn more about managing your mental health and finding the support you need.

Helping a Family Member or Friend

Learning about psychosis and schizophrenia will help you understand what your friend or family member is experiencing and trying to cope with. Living with schizophrenia is challenging. Here are some ways you can show support:

  • Respond calmly. To your loved one, the hallucinations seem real, so it doesn’t help to say they are imaginary. Calmly explain that you see things differently. Being respectful without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behavior.
  • Pay attention to triggers. You can help your family member or friend understand, and try to avoid, the situations that trigger his or her symptoms or cause a relapse or disrupt normal activities.
  • Help ensure medications are taken as prescribed. Many people question whether they still need the medication when they’re feeling better, or if they don’t like the side effects. Encourage your loved one to take his or her medication regularly to prevent symptoms from coming back or getting worse.
  • Understanding lack of awareness (anosognosia). Your family member or friend one may be unable to see that he or she has schizophrenia. Rather than trying to convince the person he or she has schizophrenia, you can show support by helping him or her be safe, get therapy, and take the prescribed medications.
  • Help avoid drugs or alcohol. These substances are known to worsen schizophrenia symptoms and trigger psychosis. If your loved one develops a substance use disorder, getting help is essential.

Related Conditions People with schizophrenia may have additional illnesses. These may include: Substance abuse Posttraumatic stress disorder Obsessive-compulsive disorder Major depression Successfully treating schizohprenia almost always improves these related illnesses. And successful treatment of substance abuse, PTSD or OCD usually improves the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Thank you for reading. I know today’s blog is quite long. I felt like it is necessary to give the above information to better educate myself as well as you the reader and/or follower. Please remember I am not qualified to diagnosis anyone of any physical or mental health condition. I hope to blog more about other diagnoses as well as various treatments for mental health conditions as time goes on. Well, I’m going to end this blog for now. Have a good day and Peace Out!!

What Can I Say, It’s Mothers Day

As many of you know it’s Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a source of pain for many us out there in this world of ours. The cause of the pain of Mother’s Day is as different and unique as each of us are as human beings.

For me Mother’s Day has been a source of pain since childhood. A source of pain I wish I could forget or at least no longer be as painful as it has been and currently is. I guess now is as good of time as any to bring up the source of many years of pain, my own mother.

The first memory I have of my childhood was not exactly the happiest and you guessed it, it involves my mother. I was the tender age of three when my mom did what many mothers would not even give a thought; she abandoned me. She didn’t just abandon me, she abandoned my dad. A dad that wasn’t exactly the worlds most perfect dad but a dad that loved me and tried the best of his ability to raise me. With my dad being a single father, that made realize how truly special my own grandmother was in my life.

If it wasn’t for my grandparents helping my dad, my dad wouldn’t have gotten custody of me when my mom decided to reappear into our lives two years late when I was five. At this point in time my dad had already gotten divorced my mom and got custody of me due to the fact that my mom abandoned me. In fact the lawyer that my wonderful grandparents got for my dad to make sure he remained the primary caregiver pointed out to the judge that if mother could leave her sick three year old alone at night as her husband was working didn’t deserve to have custody. Unforantenly, the judge to granted my mother visitation. The visitation was a complicated thing due to the fact that my dad and myself lived in Southern California and my mother lived in Western Washington.

Due to the visitation I spent my summers and Christmas’s in Washington State and the rest of the year in California. That meant as Mother’s Day rolled around, I was going to mother/daughter tea’s with my  grandmother. As I got older it got that much more difficult.

It got more difficult because mother started dating a guy who wasn’t exactly prince charming. He not only beat my mom but decided to take out his anger on me as well. He not only took out his anger me but also desired me in a way grown adults shouldn’t desire children of any age. Yes, that means I was sexually abused. Actually, I was raped by this man. I was put through years of it before he just upped and left my mom and brother.

In fact if it wasn’t for my brother, I would have asked to go to court to ask the judge to take away my mother’s visitation rights away from her. In fact I would have asked the judge to take away her parental rights away. If I would have that means my brother would have ended up in foster care  again and me no longer being able to see him. In fact my brother and I are close and we both call our mother, our egg donor because that is what she ultimately is to the both of us.

Despite all the pain my mother caused me throughout my life, there is a different pain I struggle with. That is the pain of loosing a child. In fact in my case, it’s children. I miscarried two sets of twins within 14 months of each other. This year Mother’s Day is more difficult for me than last year because we (myself, my fiancé, doula, and doctor) were more hopeful and encouraged about how my last pregnancy was progressing verses how my first pregnancy had progressed. I cant help but think how big my first set of twins would be if I didn’t miscarry them. I also cant help but think about my last pregnancy, if I didn’t miscarry back in January (of this year). I wonder if I would still be pregnant or if I would have delivered the twins because this set of twins were due on May 29th (of this year). As any parent knows, there is no greater pain a person can endure than loosing a child. I unfortunately, lost two sets of twins. As much pain I endured as child, the pain of miscarrying two pregnancies is a much great pain to me. The children I miscarried will always be a part of me.

As you can tell by this lengthy blog, Mother’s Day is quite painful for me for many different reasons. As you celebrate your mother’s or are being celebrated as a mother please take a moment of gratitude for the mother you have and/or the child(ren) you have. Not everyone has the blessing of having mother who cares or (a) child(ren) to take care of and love.

Before I end this blog, I would like to take the time out and wish all the Mother’s out there a Happy Mother’s Day. I would especially like to thank my grandma as well as others in my life to stepping into the mother role when I needed it the most. Happy Mother’s Day.

Indecisions and Distractions

It is now officially Saturday on the West Coast of the United States and this particular blog has been about four hours in the making. The reason being is because indecisions and (multiple) distractions.

Let’s discuss the indecisions that I was having. The indecisions I was having was regarding what to blog about tonight. Since I was being so indecisive, I decided to text my friend, Susan, who blogs at http://bravelybipolar.wordpress.com/ to see if she could give me some ideas on what to blog about. We spent about an hour trying to figure out topics on what I should blog about. Finally, I texted her, half jokingly, half seriously, that maybe I should blog about indecisions. She laughed in agreement. So, I attempted many times to blog about indecisions because I kept getting distracted especially when my fiancé got home from a sporting event.

On to what got me distracted from blogging about indecisions. First it was me looking up some information or “researching” potential topics to blog about. Most of those topics I was looking up or “researching” happened to be about mental health or mental illness because it is May and May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May is also Borderline Personality (BPD) Awareness Month. I mention the BPD because it’s a topic I will be blogging about at some point this month. I also got distracted by my hunger and decided to walk to Subway to get me something to eat. I was too lazy to cook anything plus Subway is about four blocks away. When I got home, I ate half of my sub. As I was putting the other half of my sub in the fridge my fiancé finally got home from a baseball game he took his mom to for an early Mother’s Day present. When he finally got settled in, we talked for a while which led to having an intense intimate moment that last for about an hour and half. Of course none of you wanted to know how long my intimate moment lasted with my wonderful partner. After the intimate moment Junior (my fiancé and wonderful partner) and myself watched The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. We watched it because U2 was on. I mainly watched it because of U2 and the reason being is not only are the an awesome band but wanted something to discuss with my friend Susan because she is beyond obsessed with U2. Now, that it’s finally one in the morning I am blogging.

Since I am blogging about indecisions and distractions, I might as well as give you the definitions of the words even though I’m sure that most of you if not all of you already know what they are.

Indecisions: noun; difficulty making decisions or wavering between two or more courses of action. (Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary.)

Distractions: noun; something that makes it difficult to pay attention or something that amuses or entertains you so that you do not think about problems, work, etc. or a state in which you are very annoyed or upset. (Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary.)

Now that I’ve bored you to death with my issues of indecision and distraction as well as their definitions, I’m going to call it a night especially since it 1:24 in the morning (pacific time).  I hope to blog again at some point today. I am hoping that it will be an interactive one. Goodnight and don’t let the bed bugs bite. Peace Out!!!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Happy May Day!!! It is officially the first day of May and that means it is mental heath awareness month. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that May is mental health awareness month. It saddens me that the media (as whole) does not make it a major deal like they (the media) do in October when it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Don’t get me wrong we need education on Breast Cancer as well as other cancers however mental health deserves just as much attention as other health issues, such as cancer.

People like myself fight the stigma of mental illness on the daily basis. Discrimination is a major issue for those of who struggle with a mental illness and it is also something our loved ones have to deal with as well. No one and I mean no one deserves to be discriminated against because of an illness they struggle with or loved one struggles with.

Here are some facts I got from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website:

Prevalence of Mental Illness

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.7 million, or 18.6%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—13.6 million, or 4.1%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.2
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder in a given year. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.3
  • 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.4
  • 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.5
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.6
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.7
  • Among the 20.7 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 40.7%—8.4 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.8

Social Stats

  • An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.9
  • Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.10
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.11
  • Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.8
  • Just over half (50.6%) of children aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.12
  • African Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.13
  • Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.14

Consequences of Lack of Treatment

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.15
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.16
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.17 Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.18
  • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14­–21 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.19
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,20 the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–2421 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.22
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.23
  • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.

I hope that I will be able to continue to educate people on mental illness for the rest of May and beyond. I hope to share more of my personal story to give hope to those who a struggling with mental illness and show them that recovery is possible. Recovery is not easy but it is possible.

I also hope to discuss current laws in regards to mental health and pending bills that are being discussed in the House as well as the senate. One of which is Murphy’s Bill. All of what I hope to discuss is dependent on how busy life gets. Life being busy is partly why I haven’t  been able to blog the last month and half. I love blogging and sharing my recovery with others as well as educating others. I hope to blog again at some point this weekend with more educational material if not more of my personal recovery story.

Have a good weekend! Please do not forget to educate people on mental illness and make people aware that May is mental health awareness month. Peace Out!!