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!!

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Mental Illness and Evangelical Christians

It’s Sunday and that means a number of people around the world went to their place of worship to celebrate their particular entity. It being Sunday, I decided to take a friend up on her invite to attend the church that she is a member of. The reason why I took my friend up on the invite was because she had a solo. Going to church is a major deal to me because I rarely go.

I rarely go  to church for many reasons and one those things happened today at the church I visited today. To give you a back story I use to self harm by cutting myself and that means I have scars and some of those scars are on my arms. Whenever I go and visit a church and wear short sleeves I get a lot of stares and some questions and that’s okay with me. It’s a way to educate others. The thing I have an issue with and is one of the reasons I choose to not attend church is when those in attendance of the church telling me various things in regards to my scarred up arms. Things like “You need Jesus because if you had Jesus you wouldn’t have those,” as they point to my arms or “The Devil must be inside of you because you cut yourself,” or “I think you should attend our healing service to be healed of your mental health issues. You obviously have one or you wouldn’t have scars on your arms.” All three of these statements were told to me today. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t hear the people who told me these statements because she was getting ready for her solo with the choir. My friend attends an Evangelical Christian church and I have found that with all the Evangelical Churches I have been to, I have at least five or six people make similar comments like the ones I shared with you above. When people of faith tell me comments like above or similar ones it has me feeling less than human and undeserving. I do have to say I was able to stand up for myself when I had people make comments to me today. The comments my friend was around to hear she backed me up and helped me convey my message and ultimately stood up for me. In fact, she even stood up for me when the senior pastor of her church made the comment, “Oh another lost soul that allowed Satan to take over so he could make you crazy.” Yes, he said crazy. I am so grateful that my friend stuck for me and gave her senior pastor a lesson on God, faith, compassion and mental illness.

My friend was in disbelief when she not only heard her friends make discriminatory and “un-Christ-like” comments but the comments her senior pastor said. When I told her I was hesitant to go to her church for reason such as I just described to you she told me it wouldn’t happen. I find my friend being a little naïve when it came to this issue. In fact many Evangelical Christians are naïve and ignorant toward mental illness. Many Evangelical Christian feel and think that we chose to have a mental illness or allowed the devil to give us one. Why would we choose to have a mental illness? I would wish a mental illness on my worst enemy.

I am not posting this blog to pass judgment on any particular person, religion or faith but to educate those who may not be aware that their comments and actions hurt and turn away potential Christians to believe what they believe or attend their church. I know some of the comments are well intended but not helpful. A great deal of the comments I receive today in regards to my scarred up arms were quite ignorant, discriminatory, judgmental and just plain ole continued the stigmatizing of mental illness.

The goal of this blog and blog entry is to educate those on mental illness. Stigma has no place anywhere especially in a place of worship. Everyone need to feel safe when they are worshiping their particular entity.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest I will call it an evening and night. Have a good rest of your Sunday evening. Peace Out!!

Figuring Out How To Succeed At Blogging

Happy Friday!!!! Apparently, I’m not reaching as many people as I hoped I would be. I only have 15 followers and don’t get many views. I am just getting frustrated with myself because I am not blogging as regularly as I was wanting to as well as not doing much educating when it comes to mental illness. I was hoping that I would educate people on particular mental health diagnoses but it appears that something is getting in my way in doing that. That something is me. I’m the one that is hindering the progression of this blog. On the positive side, I know that through my blog that I am showing others that recovery is possible (or at least I think I am).

My thinking was (and still is) when I started this blog was to show others that recovery is possible and that their is hope. I know that my blog is succeeding to a point when it comes to showing others that recovery is possible but it’s not succeeding in other ways. Its not succeeding in the number of followers or views I have or get and I think the reason being is the reason I stated earlier in this blog and that is the education part of it. I am hoping that once things start settling down with the new job as well as the new volunteer job that I will be able to start the education part of this blog. It is my hope that I will educate on the diagnosis’s that I have as well the ones I no longer meet the criteria for. I then hope to do some education on the diagnoses that family members and close friends struggle with and then go on from there.

Now that you heard enough about how my blog is not succeeding let get on to other subjects. I will start with my boyfriend. When he got off from work this morning I had made him breakfast. I made him pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs. According to my boyfriend I burned the bacon. He pretty much likes eating bacon raw or at least almost raw. He likes all the fat on it. I do have to say that the fat on the bacon is what makes bacon taste good. After eating breakfast and doing dishes we had some intimate moments. Intimacy is something I personally struggle with because of some severe trauma I experienced as a child and even some trauma I experienced as an adult. With that being said my boyfriend makes me feel safe especially during intimate moments. He is gentle with me and extremely loving.

Speaking of loving, I am loving my new job. Yes, I know a loving partner is completely different than loving your job. I not only love my job, I enjoy it as well. My job gives me great joy even though its not the position I desire. In regards to it not being the position I desire its a foot in the door as well as moving up opportunities.

Since we are on the topic of opportunities, my volunteer job at the Warm Line gives me training opportunities as well as possible career advancement at my current employer and possibly at the Crisis Line where the Warm Line is run out of. Yes, I know what I just said sounds a little selfish but if what I do employment wise as well as volunteering gives me a purpose in life then so be it. I’m improving with being a call taker on the Warm Line and am no longer a deer in head lights. I am finally getting in the grove of things as a call taker.

I so want to share more with you right now but I realize I am hungry and need to figure out what I want to cook for dinner. I’m hoping that my boyfriend will give me some idea’s. Actually, I am hoping that he will do the cooking tonight.  Well, have a good Friday evening everyone. I hope everyone enjoys there weekend and has some fun. Peace out.

Good Morning!!!

     Good Morning!!! It’s another Sunday morning and its another rare Sunday I have off. In a way I wish I worked today because if I work Sundays, I get paid time and a third. I know that doesn’t sound like much but that extra money helps a great deal. 

     Well my boyfriend called me after he got off from work this morning. He invited me over for breakfast. I love the fact that loves to cook for me. He fixed me bacon, scrambled eggs and hashbrowns. I also had orange juice and chocolate milk to drink. Oh how I love chocolate.

     My plans for the rest of the day are to clean my apartment. It’s a disaster area in my opinion. Another thing a plan on doing to reading. I plan on reading A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens as well as some of the psychology text books I bout last night. I still cant believe I bought two psychology text books for $13.51 at Half Priced Books. I love learning. My boyfriend and I are going have dinner together as well. We might even watch a movie together. I just need to get my apartment clean. I also hope to blog again later. It all depend on how things go.

     I am trying to keep myself busy today because its the five year anniversary of a traumatic event. Even though I want to blog later on I may not be in the best head space. That’s why I need keep myself busy. I want to stay in at least an okay head space. That’s another reason why I’m going to be spending a lot of time with my boyfriend today. He is a great support to me.

     I need to get going. I need to clean my apartment. I’m hoping to blog again later. I hope that you all have good rest of your Sunday. Peace out.

An Accomplished Week

     Well another Saturday is coming to a close and I am looking back on the week to see what I accomplished. I’ve accomplished a great deal. I worked 3 days this week which equals to 13.5 hours. I went to a 3 day training regarding Co-Occurring Disorders. I also went to a 4th of July party. So I accomplished a great deal this week.

      I had a great time at the 4th of July party I went to yesterday. Yes, I did get overwhelmed a little due to PTSD however I was surrounded by people who care about me. I enjoyed watching the fireworks. They were surprisingly good this year. Still not as good as Disneyland. I really enjoyed all the food I ate. I do have to admit that I had urges to binge and purge with all the food I ate. Its been a while since I had any urges regarding the Anorexia and/or Bulimia. I think the urges popped up because of the PTSD. Overall, I enjoyed my time at the 4th of July party,

     My PTSD symptoms are acting up because tomorrow (Sunday, July 6, 2014) is the five year anniversary of me being date r*p*d by my boyfriend at the time. My current boyfriend has been extremely supportive of me regarding this horrific anniversary. Unfortunately, my boyfriend is working at the moment. He wont get off work till tomorrow morning. He is doing an overtime (OT) shift. I am going to be honest with you. I have been fighting urges to cut today. I still get urges to self harm quite frequently but I choose not to because it just makes the situation worse.

     I know I spoke about this yesterday but I’m going to bring it up again. I really enjoyed the Co-Occurring Disorders training I attended. I loved learning the science of addiction. Its quite fascinating on what the brain does and how it reacts to different things including how drugs and/or alcohol effects it. I reread the material again. In fact I know I will reread it again because I can always learn something new every time I read it.

     Speaking of reading, I continued reading A Tale Of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. It helped me a great deal today because it got my mind off of things. It got my mind off of the urges to cut. Yes, I may be a Recovered Borderline but unfortunately I still get urges to self harm. Its what do with the urges. I have to use my DBT skills. Reading is one of those skills. I love to read.

     Another thing I did today was go to Half Priced Books and bought two psychology text books for only $13.51. I’m not in school but I love to learn. I bought the psychology books in hopes to learn more. I also want to see what colleges and universities are teaching future therapist and social workers because they maybe helping me someday in the future. I didn’t make it through my first year at a community college because of my mental illness. So I’ve been trying to educate myself by buying various types of text books when they are cheap and out of date.

      I best be going because the local news is now over. That means Saturday Night Live is on next. SNL always make me laugh. Humor make me feel better. Well I best be going. I hope to blog again tomorrow. Enjoy the last 25 minutes of your Saturday. I’m glad I’ve accomplished so much this past week. Good night and peace out.