The Benefits of Early Intervention for Schizophrenia

At HealthCentral in March and April and in the coming months:

I’ve written and I’ll continue to write news articles about strategies for coping with symptoms.

I understand that a lot of people still have symptoms so I’ve decided to focus on strategies for managing symptoms.

My self-help books will give tactics for individuals living with mental illnesses who might have symptoms or might not have symptoms, either way.

Yet I don’t think a person should have to live with symptoms if they don’t have to.

It’s my contention that remission is a worthy goal to shoot for. And the quicker you get treated, it’s possible you’ll achieve remission quickly.

You shouldn’t have to suffer endlessly because treatment was delayed to the point where your symptoms are severe and won’t go away at all. You shouldn’t have to live with symptoms if you don’t have to.

The better able you are to minimize how symptoms disrupt your life: the easier it will be to function in the world, set goals and achieve them, and to have an easier time of it in your everyday life.

My platform is that getting the right treatment right away can result in a better outcome in life for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia,bipolar, and other mental illnesses.

I was hospitalized for a total of just under five weeks. It doesn’t upset me that I had a break. What I’m compelled to speak out against is cookie-cutter treatment of individuals with mental illnesses.

In 1987, when I was first diagnosed, I was shunted into a community mental health system ill-equipped to help a young person like me that had so much potential. I wrote about this before: how my quiet nature was seen as aberrant; how I had to fight to be taken seriously in my goal of living on my own and obtaining a full-time job.

No one-size-fits-all-treatment can exist. You need to talk to your treatment providers in an open, honest dialogue to arrive at the best treatment for your needs at this moment in time.

A friend with schizophrenia who rose up to be the CEO of corporations had a psychiatrist tell him, “Don’t make up a story about being a CEO to feel better about having schizophrenia.”

This was circa 2004: too late in the history of the recovery movement for a treatment provider to be reinforcing to his patient that there’s not much you can do if you have this illness.

I want to be a cheerleader for people diagnosed with mental illnesses, regardless of whether or not you have symptoms.

This friend I talk about heard voices for 10 years. His first doctor tried every new drug that came out until they found the medication that totally stopped the voices.

The goal is to not give up the fight to have a better life.

I’ll end here by telling readers you’re not doomed to a life of disability.

You can have a better life.

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Remission And Recovery

Read about how early schizophrenia intervention in the prodromal stage changes the nature of the illness.

I’m a big fan of treating individuals in the prodromal stage of schizophrenia.

The anti-psychiatry nonsense that you should want to live in a psychotic state because it’s a natural life experience reinforces stigma.

I say: treat the symptoms immediately to stop the person from becoming permanently disabled. Every other female blogger I’ve followed over the years (one with 500 followers) whose treatment was delayed too long has suffered ongoing damage.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter of November 2008 stated that the earlier you treat schizophrenia with medication, the more likely the drugs will be effective. The longer you wait to get treated, the worse the outcome. The earlier you’re treated, you’ll require a lower dose of medication most likely, offsetting the side effects.

Having symptoms is not a walk in the park. The so-called anti-psychiatry crowd with their “alternatives to psychosis treatment” are engaging in practicing medicine without a license when they claim to have effective “treatments” like taking a psychotic person into a quiet room and talking to them gently.

Early intervention programs that treat individuals who are in the prodromal stage of schizophrenia have proven effective in halting full-blown psychosis and the imminent disability that occurs from delayed treatment. The PIER early intervention program in Maine was started easily 10 years ago and it’s still going strong.

The choice is clear to me: if you have the opportunity to stop the symptoms completely, do this as soon as possible. Pronto. Immediately. Without delay.

Yes: I’m a fan of the medical model: of using medication to treat schizophrenia for individuals that need medication to achieve remission or at least a better shot at recovery.

Taking medication is how I got to be in remission. Research indicates 25 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia can achieve a spontaneous remission without needing to continue medication.

I’m not one of those 25 percent. And if you ask me the goal in schizophrenia treatment should be remission. As a psychiatrist told me years ago: “Total symptom relief is the only acceptable outcome for you, Chris.” He wasn’t kidding.

Being in remission or at least having minimal symptoms is in my estimation as equally important as getting to recovery. I’m not a fan of the current “consumer recovery movement” with its anti-medication zealots advising vulnerable people to accept not taking meds and living with psychosis.

No one I know who went on a drug holiday to discontinue their schizophrenia medication achieved a spontaneous remission. They wound up sicker than ever and doomed to collecting SSI.

This choice is clear to me too: that when you’re able to achieve remission by taking medication the future is wide open. Your life certainly becomes easier than if you have to struggle every day with recurring symptoms. Why suffer “major ongoing episodes” if you don’t have to?

Early intervention:

Yes. Yes. And yes.

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.