News & Press
The fight for health: What the community should know about schizophrenia
By Teresa Martin, RN Medical Services Manager
Ionia County Community Mental Health
Posted Jun. 19, 2015 at 11:13 PM
IONIA COUNTY, Mich.
Schizophrenia is one of the world's leading brain illnesses; yet its cause, how it progresses, and effective treatment for the disease are still a mystery. Schizophrenia often leads to homelessness, as well as early onset dementia and even early death.
Because people with schizophrenia can exhibit odd behaviors, like hallucinations or delusions, they may be feared and ostracized in the community. However, the best thing for individuals with schizophrenia is to stay engaged in the community as much as they can for as long as they can. That’s why it is important that community members understand the disease.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Sue Gabriel will discuss schizophrenia, what it is (and what it isn't) and how we can all work together to help those who are affected by it lead healthier lives, at a community forum at 1 p.m. Monday, June 29, at Ionia County Community Mental Health. The presentation is free and open to all.
Schizophrenia strikes young. The first "break" is often when the person is 20 to 22, when they may be off at college and becoming acclimated to a new life. What is happening to them – thinking and behavior that is out of the ordinary – may not be understood. It could be attributed to their new circumstances and ignored. The sooner the diagnosis, the better the outcome, so it is important for everyone in the community to understand what is and isn’t “normal.”
While there is no known cure for schizophrenia at this time, there have been many advances in treatment. When treatment begins early and is received consistently, the outlook 10 years – and even 30 years – later is significantly different from when people avoid treatment and/or stop taking their medications.
At the same time, it can take up to five years for both the person who has schizophrenia and their family to accept the diagnosis and work with it. Those first five years are critical ones, because the disease is progressive, and the sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis. That is why education about Schizophrenia is so important: denial of the disease or not recognizing the symptoms makes it even more difficult for the person with the illness over the long term.
People with schizophrenia can and should continue to live in the community, no matter how severe their symptoms, participate in the workforce and live their lives as fully as possible, because doing so helps them manage their disease. We want the community to understand the disease and the deficits it can cause, so they will be willing to make exceptions when the person with schizophrenia isn’t doing so well.
When you are shopping at Meijer or Walmart, run into someone and know that “something is not quite right,” also know that there is nothing to be afraid of. People with schizophrenia are like anyone else; they just have an illness. The saddest thing is that they are often the ones who are victimized by others.
Schizophrenia is difficult for the person who has it, because they try so hard to be like their peers – and know they are not. Denial can play a part: when they are doing better being on their medication, they may go off it, thinking they don’t need it anymore – and then the symptoms come back. Each time they go off their medications, the baseline (from where improvement is determined) goes lower and lower. Medications also have side effects, which are not pleasant, but staying on the medication is so important.
The disease also is hard on the family of the person with schizophrenia. It’s like a death; they may feel as though they slowly lose the person they knew, while the “shell” remains, but they can be helped.
For more information about schizophrenia, the June 29 presentation or mental health services, call Ionia County Community Mental Health at 616-527-1790.