Getting Treatment is Everyone’s Right

I used to be the Health Guide at HealthCentral’s schizophrenia website for the last nine years.

I reported on the seven diagnostic tools that are to be used to rule out or confirm a person has schizophrenia.

One woman wrote a memoir Brain on Fire. She documented how an astute MD correctly diagnosed her sudden illness that caused psychotic symptoms as being something other than schizophrenia.

I’ve also reported at HealthCentral on the body of long-term research that indicates 25 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia can achieve remission without medication.

I’ve been in remission over 23 years because I take medication.

And even though I’ve written elsewhere that a minority of people don’t need to take medication I’m still attacked.

My point is this: if you are able to choose not to take medication and still be able to function: that’s different. You’re in the minority.

My concern is this: for a significant number of people with schizophrenia who have anosognosia or that is the lack of insight that they have an illness: going without treatment is the quickest route to life-long disability.

I will go to my grave advocating that psychosis is NOT a normal life experience that people should want to experience the rest of their lives. Most people who are psychotic cannot function.

Yes: I dare say the treatment focus should be on individuals who have chronic mental illnesses.

Individuals with chronic schizophrenia who need effective treatment should not be left by the side of the road to fend for themselves while their symptoms worsen and ravage their mind.

Individuals with schizophrenia who are capable of going to work or school should not be told recovery is not possible.

Whatever camp a person is in: none of us should be told that we should accept psychosis as the outcome for the rest of our lives. And this is too often the message we’re being given: don’t take pills. Be proud to be psychotic.

We’re told our lives don’t matter.

While I was employed at HealthCentral I was not a rubber stamp. I didn’t tell people what they might have wanted to hear: that it’s okay not to take medication and it’s okay to disregard upholding the social covenant to act as a responsible citizen.

I wrote easily nine years ago that when it became clear I needed to take medication that I gave up my rights to do what I wanted. Most of all: I don’t want to be psychotic. Psychosis is not a right. It’s a disease.

You’re psychotic: you have the right to get treatment. You don’t deserve to wind up sick, jailed, or homeless. Everyone is worth saving.

I don’t care if only a tiny minority of people are sick, jailed, or homeless. It’s high time these people get treatment.

The Oregon shooter might not have had a mental illness. He might have been a psychopath.

Yet we can no longer be shocked at mass shootings. Outrage without action won’t heal or help individuals who should’ve gotten help in the first place.

Setting the Bar for Mental Health Treatment

I’m not a model-off duty even though it’s the holiday weekend.

I’ve decided to publish blog entries for this Fourth of July because I don’t want to wait until Monday.

My point is: the bar has been set low for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Heck: for too many years the bar was set in the gutter.

More than this: I think mental health services are dismal because in fact the bar was not set at all.

“Business as usual” didn’t work in 1987 when I had the misfortune of being a recipient of community mental health services. Two years shy of 30 years after 1987 business as usual still isn’t working.

Who says most people can’t recover from schizophrenia? Why are the saying this?

It begs the question: “Why aren’t people able to recover?” Placing the blame on the person himself or herself for failing to recover is NOT the answer. In an era of non-existent mental health services the answer is: the mental health system has failed the very individuals who need effective treatment the most.

Where is this treatment? I’m employed at a job and even I can’t get treatment.

A disincentive exists for most people with mental illnesses to get jobs. If you collect government benefits, you can see a therapist at a clinic once a week going on seven years like one person I know does. If you get a job, you’ll have to pay for your own health insurance. Private therapists won’t take insurance and will charge you $100/session.

If you’re a provider or other person who doesn’t think a person with schizophrenia can recover: what exactly do you think we can do with our lives? If you’re a provider who doesn’t think we can recover what exactly are you providing us? Holding our hands and singing folk songsĀ is not helping us. Stringing us along with treatment that is not evidence-based is not helping us.

Not setting the bar is what’s not helping individuals with schizophrenia recover. Bickering over whether or not a person with schizophrenia should take medication is not helping the majority of people who need to take medication to have an equal shot at a better life.

I submit that 90 percent of the people in society haven’t set the bar for themselves or for others in their ordinary lives.

The one way they set the bar is to groom their kids to do extracurricular activities to guarantee they’ll get into Harvard or Yale or other prestigious colleges. Ironically this pressure causes young people to have ill mental health just trying to conform to what’s considered “normal”–acting super-competitive to get ahead of other people in society.

I make the case for setting the bar in terms of the treatment you expect from providers and other people. Expect respect. Set the bar for the treatment you provide individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Expect that collecting SSI the rest of their lives and living in a dangerous apartment complex on the edge of town: is NOT the guaranteed outcome once they’re diagnosed.

I still can’t say why I had the guts to challenge the staff way back in 1989 when I decided I wanted to get a full-time job and live independently. I can’t say why I had that courage.

I can say that 30 years later the system still isn’t working when a person has to decide between getting government-funded therapy and getting a job.

Universal healthcare anyone?

360 Degrees

It’s remarkable to me that every human being is capable of making a 360 degree turn or change for the better. At any point in our lives and our recovery. And really, the revolution full-circle is an evolution of what each of us is capable of.

In recovery as in life, there are no endpoints or limits, just the potential for continued self-growth. Human beings can be like perennials that bloom over and over throughout our lives when we nurture ourselves, and act kind and are good to ourselves.

I also realized that medication and self-motivation are the twin engines driving recovery for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar. I learned this the hard way when I went on a failed drug holiday in 1992 when I was 27.

Without medication, your efforts are useless because you’re straining against the illness. And having the medication without have the desire to do better is the quickest way to having a life where it’s “one day like any other” spent watching TV in your room.

The song lyrics from the 1980s about how it’s just another night on the edge of town reminds me of the time I spent in the residence in the dangerous apartment complex on yes, the edge of town. A friend and I back then joked that to have fun and amuse ourselves we’d have cockroach races to see which bug got to the other side of the living room first.

I’ll end here by quoting Viktor Frankl from his holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

It gets better. It can get better.

Each of us extending a watering can of hope is what matters most.

Always be hopeful, because hope heals.