“I am god and I have the power to send you to hell,” declared a young man in a mental health crisis. Schizophrenia is a very serious and most challenging mental illness that affects millions of people living here in the United States. It is one of the most feared and misunderstood illness because if left untreated it can have a most profoundly negative effect on the lives of individuals, families and communities. Untreated schizophrenia shows in unusual and most inappropriate behaviors. Those living with this disease oftentimes end up homeless, in prison, or in a tragic death.
You might be asking what is schizophrenia or how do you recognize it. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that interferes with one’s ability to think clearly, manage their emotions, and interactions with others. The symptoms of schizophrenia runs very wide across the capacities that characterize human behavior, cognition, and emotion such as perception, thought, language, emotion, volition, and creativity. The capacity to perform these functions well is often placed by strange and terrifying internal perceptions and experiences, feelings of estrangement, the sense that personal autonomy is being violated, and the sense that control over oneself has been lost. Outsiders view these experiences as frightening, bizarre and off-putting. The family members view these experiences as frightening, depressing, and hopeless. The combination of public misconceptions and ignorance with intense suffering makes schizophrenia perhaps the most tragic human illness because we alienate, shun, and reject these persons. Truth is they are human just like us and they need our love, help, and support in order to survive.
Schizophrenia has been linked by science to changes in the brain’s chemistry and structure. Some of these changes may be present very early in life. It affects people in different ways. Thus, the illness is unique for each individual person living with the disease. For example, some individuals are violent. Some are passive (but because they are responding to voices inside their head and are either pointing or laughing) others might think that the individual is targeting them when in fact they are in their own world. You see people who live with schizophrenia have delusions and hallucinations where they see and hear things that are not there and believe things that are not real or true. At least this is what medical doctors report. However, just because you might not see or experience what that individual is experiencing does not mean it is not real. This will be explained later, for now, I just want to provide a little insight into the illness itself. The ability to organize one’s thoughts, perform complex memory tasks, or follow a simple instruction is most challenging and difficult for the person living with this disease. No single symptom is found to be present in all individuals, nor is any one individual burdened with all the various signs and symptoms of schizophrenia. The same can be said for those living with the disease of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, or lupus. Not every individual who lives with those diseases have all or the same symptoms.
I want to say that schizophrenia is not caused by bad parenting. I am a parent who has a son that lives with this illnesses of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. When my son had his first psychotic episode at the age of 16 yrs immediately I thought what did I do and how did I not know that my child had this illness. You see he was an honor student, mild mannered child with a giving and loving heart and a vivid imagination. However, I did not know that there was a history of mental illness in my family’s bloodline. After talking with family I learned that a great aunt and uncle lived with the disease and were institutionalized. It skipped my mother and her nine siblings but several of my first cousins live with the disease. It skipped me and my siblings and out of my four children my youngest son lives with this illness. Now, I know that I am talking about this from a natural aspect but there is a spiritual aspect of this as well which will be addressed by Pastor Joan Wright Richardson. I want to discuss this from both aspects because many cultures view mental illness as being spiritual and in some cultures they treat the mentally ill by performing exorcisms.
I hope that this blog has been most informative to you. In the next blog I will discuss what some of the common symptoms look like such as delusions and hallucinations, inability to interpret and respond, paranoid delusions, Grandiose delusions, hallucinations as result of over-acute senses, voices, and altered sense of self in schizophrenia.
Please feel free to leave comments and questions as all are welcome. I am not a doctor or psychiatrist. I am a mother who has a son living with mental illness. His diagnoses are bipolar manic depression and psychosis and schizophrenia. I am not just his mother but his strongest advocate to make certain that he receives the best treatment and services that will enable him to live a successful life within society. I am a member and active volunteer with NAMI (National Alliance Mental Illness) wherein I facilitated parent support groups, member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, African American Advisory Board and the Sharing Hope Advisory Committee. I actively participate in the education of law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and other health and legal professionals known as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) by sharing my son’s story and my journey with him as a parent and family member to help them understand how to respond to persons in a mental health crisis so that not only are they safe but the person in the crisis is safely transported to a medical facility to receive medical treatment for symptoms of the illness. It is extremely important to me that people understand mental health so that our friends, family members, and loved ones can live beyond the stigma associated with mental illness. I do have my Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice which I use daily to advocate for those living with mental illness who find themselves in the juvenile or criminal justice to remain free from jail and not receive criminal records because they are in the criminal courts and not mental health courts. Also, I am there to help family members understand the civil commitment process of a loved one who is being committed by the court to a medical facility or institution as well how to become the legal guardian of your loved one so they do not become a Ward of the state. As I pursue my law degree I will continue to advocate for the mentally ill as well as offer support and assistance to their family members.
My son lives with the illness but he knows that he is not alone for I am on this journey with him. Just like you, they have hopes, dreams, aspirations and feelings. I look forward to your thoughts and comments and I hope and pray that my sharing will be most beneficial to you.