Tag Archives: medication for mental illness

Treatment Pays Off in Schizophrenia, Even if “Unwanted”

One young man with schizophrenia makes the news this week because he attacked his parents with a rock. The Mom says “I am afraid of my own son now.” According to the article, their son was refusing the treatment and medication available to him from the Kentucky assertive community treatment program. The treatment was voluntary. The young man said “no thanks.” And nearly killed his parents.

My son, Ben, also diagnosed with schizophrenia (and a very severe case, I am told), gently lifts his baby niece out of her swing, sings a silly baby song to her and gets a huge smile from her in return. Then he showers, shaves, irons his shirt, and heads off to work.  He has been a server at the same restaurant – full-time – for over two years.

In Ireland, a man is finally committed to a mental health facility – after killing his parents with an axe. This treatment comes, obviously, way too late.

My son’s phone constantly rings with texts from friends, who are trying to arrange a “game night” at home for
tomorrow evening. Now he has friends again – but it took years to rebuild relationships, after years lost to hospitalizations and periods of relapse. We hope he never again needs that level of help. If Ben continues with treatment, we may get our wish. But there is no guarantee when it comes to mental health. This we know, all too well.

Five years ago, right after my book Ben Behind his Voices was published, Ben went off his medication and went back into the hospital for the eighth time. It took seven weeks to engage his willingness to “go back on meds”, after which he moved back in with us – with strict rules to “follow psychiatrist instructions.” Why? There was no other way we’d allow him to live with us.

some of the latest info on schizophrenia treatment
some of the latest info on schizophrenia treatment

The truth is: treatment makes all the difference. That’s why we, Ben’s family, “require” it in order for him to live with us. And, yes, we supervise it – staying up until 1 or 2 AM five nights a week to do so. Because, without this, we might have to be frightened of our own son too. Instead, our biggest problems resemble those of parents raising a growing teen – messy bedroom, sloppy compliance with curfews, uneducated financial decisions – even though Ben is 34 years old.  Not always fun, but we’ll take this level of challenge. It’s annoying at worst. With one in four families dealing with mental illness in a loved one, I know many who would give anything to have “problems” like ours instead of the stigma, guilt, helplessness, grief and fear they experience every day. Continue reading Treatment Pays Off in Schizophrenia, Even if “Unwanted”

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Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

Another merciless, senseless shooting, this time in Oregon. Another troubled shooter with three names. As details of the life of Chris Harper Mercer emerge on news outlets, I expect, sooner or later, to find out what often is uncovered: undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness symptoms. Duh. And a family left trying to “handle it” alone. Duh, again. Been there – am there. Except we got some education and support so we could try to help our son. We are among the very lucky families. At the moment. Continue reading Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

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The Stupidity of Medicare: Saving Pennies, Risking Lives in Mental Health Care

It took ten years for us to find a medication regime that not only works to help manage the symptoms of my son Ben’s schizophrenia, but that he is willing to take consistently. Ten years.  Three of those have taken place after where our book, Ben Behind His Voices, leaves off – in what one reader calls “open-ended hope.”  At that time, Spring of 2011, Ben was in a group home, stable for long enough to begin to piece his life back together, but still finding any possible opportunity to “cheek” his meds. He hated taking them, didn’t think he needed them, was discouraged by the side effects.

Rebuilding Your Life with Mental Illness: Delicate
Rebuilding Your Life with Mental Illness: Delicate

Finally, though, a few months after the book was published, Ben had a relapse (see Revolving Door post) and it took a lot of teamwork to get him back on the meds that work – teamwork that included Ben himself, and that’s why it was effective.

What helped Ben to agree? There is a different form of one of his meds that was much easier for Ben to swallow, literally, and that he swears has no side effects. This is a liquid suspension that has to be created by the pharmacist. Does it have fewer side effects? Who knows? But Ben believes that it does, and that’s what matters. He felt like – and was/is – a part of the decision that affects his life every day. The empowerment is definitely a contributing factor in Ben’s adherence to his medication regime.

And now, the main medication that Ben takes is no longer covered by Medicare. At least not in the formulation that Ben is willing to take, in the formulation that he can tolerate. In order to save money, they will not cover the extra ingredients needed to create the liquid version. Pills do not work. He cannot take them, physically or emotionally. Without this specific form of his meds, Ben could lose every single thing he has fought for so long to achieve. His job. His social life. His car. Continue reading The Stupidity of Medicare: Saving Pennies, Risking Lives in Mental Health Care

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Encouraging Treatment: Loving Parent? or Cruel Dictator?

(repurposed from my final blogpost on “Mental Illness in the Family” on HealthyPlace.com)

Two things happened last month that stirred me to revisit an often-examined question:

Am I too involved in my son’s life? Have I “stolen his manhood and his rights” by insisting on treatment?

One reminder came in the form of a reader’s book review on Amazon.com forBen Behind His Voices, calling it a “Testament to Abuse of Power and Parental Authority,” the only one-star review in a sea of 5-star praise and gratitude. Clearly, a man with an agenda, so I didn’t take it too personally, but this is not the first time I’ve been called an over-involved parent. On the other hand, I’ve also been criticized by others  for not “stopping” Ben from dropping out of high school, for “allowing” my son a period of homelessness in Idaho and “letting him fail” when he gained and then lost five different jobs after he returned.

And then there is — the question of “forcing” Ben to take medications to help restore balance to his brain. The second reminder came from a voice student of mine, who shared how well his son with schizophrenia was doing without meds, having “learned to recognize the voices and deal with them” instead. Of course, that’s wonderful. Some people, I understand, can do that — but often it takes all of their energy just to keep those voices at bay. And then there are those, like Be, who cannot, in a million years, manage the full-time job of keeping his inner thoughts (or voices, or whatever they are) quiet enough so that he can attend to the outside world. Elyn Saks clearly outlines her unsuccessful attempts to get off meds in her memoir The Center Cannot Hold; in our family, we have seen, all too frighteningly, what Ben’s life becomes when he doesn’t take his medication — wildly wandering, constantly mumbling, lost in his own world, relentlessly pacing, capable of lashing out. He is lost to us then and, I believe, to himself. Continue reading Encouraging Treatment: Loving Parent? or Cruel Dictator?

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How Families Slip to the End of the Rope: Mental Health System Cracks

As we approach the third Anniversary of the publication of Ben Behind His Voices, the big question remains. How would Ben be doing without family support? Have there been any improvements in the system that failed my son, and our family, so many times in the past?

Want an update? If you missed it in an earlier post, here is the progress since the last page of the book (where Ben is still living in a group home, back in college classes, and doing some volunteer work). Many of the details are outlined in earlier posts (check category “How is Ben Doing Now?”), but here is the current picture, about which I am so grateful:

  • Ben continues to take college courses, 6 credits at a time.
  • He lives at home with us, and pays rent. (this after a disastrous housing change from the group home)
  • He has a JOB! He is a waiter in a chain restaurant, and absolutely loves it.  He is often in the top three for tip-earning, and has often been asked to stay and supervise the closing process. Yes, amazing.
  • Although he had a roommate here for awhile, that ended badly (with the roommate’s addiction and connected behaviors) – but Ben has managed to salvage the start of an actual social life now. One step at a time.

 

Help Us before we Get Here!
Help Us before we Get Here!

Still. All of this progress can go away in record time – and often has, in the past – if something interferes with the meds he takes.

Families like ours walk a tightrope, struggling to balance all the elements of progress when someone we love has a “neural difference.” And we cannot do it alone.  So it really pisses me off when our competence creates laissez-faire among the people supposed to be our support.

1. Last Friday, I noticed we were almost out of Medication A (Ben takes 3 things). So I called the pharmacy to order more.

2.They could not place the order because they had not received paperwork from the case management team. So I called his case manager, and also sent an e-mail. No answer.

3. Had to wait until Monday for further action. (No one works on weekends). Didn’t think it would be an issue. Continue reading How Families Slip to the End of the Rope: Mental Health System Cracks

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“Hearing Voices” Movement…Not For All

As the mother of a beautiful young man who struggles with schizophrenia every day of his life, I am always tempted by magical thinking.  What if Ben’s symptoms could be brought under his control without medication? What is he could somehow manage the hallucinations himself, if he only “understood” their origin?

brain in hands
Our Brain -How Much in Our Control?

Oh, how I wish.

There is a growing movement of those who are doing just that, they say.  I have met a few of them, heard their theories, congratulate them on their success, and wish them every happiness.

My son, however, would be harmed by this  “hearing voices” movement – or, in the US, something called Mad In America. I’m glad it has worked for some – but it is not for everyone.

Susan Inman talks about this in Huffington Post,  Canada:

Many perfectly healthy people have auditory hallucinations. However, auditory hallucinations can also often be part of the chaos of a psychotic illness. In recent years, numerous groups have developed to assist “voice hearers,” as some wish to be called. Unfortunately, most of these groups don’t want to recognize the very different needs of people with severe mental illnesses. Continue reading “Hearing Voices” Movement…Not For All

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“Silver Linings Playbook” and Meds: Why the Secrecy?

At the end of the movie Silver Linings Playbook, when main character Pat Peoples is about to embark on the next, happier, more stable part of his life, I think he says something to his ex-wife about doing much better because he is focused, determined, physically fit – and (shhh!)taking his meds.

silver liningsI think he says this because it’s muttered almost under his breath – like it’s a big secret we don’t need the audience to know. As if he could do it all by himself without those nasty “drugs”.

Really? Most of the one-out-of-four families who deal with mental illness will say that, while all those other elements of recovery are also essential (love, purpose, helping others, exercise, structure) , they could be entirely useless without the medications that stabilize the brain. Albeit not perfectly.

Does Pat Peoples Take Meds in Silver Linings Playbook ?

One quote from the book:

“…a woman who knows all my secrets, a woman who knows just how messed up my mind is, how many pills I’m on, and yet she allows me to hold her anyway”,

suggests that Pat did, after initial resistance (which we see in the film), take his medications (which we might see in the film, but it’s left unclear). Continue reading “Silver Linings Playbook” and Meds: Why the Secrecy?

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Beyond Hope, to Promise: Treatment Works

For the first time in years, Ben has spoken to me about goals – and he actually has some, that he is willing to share with me.

When you have a goal, it can be risky to say it out loud. What if you fail? What if your dreams don’t come true?

foundation
Treatment, the Foundation for Progress

For so long, Ben has been busy getting his life back to where it might have been had his progress not been interrupted by psychosis, hospitalizations, and regrouping. Step by small step, he has returned to college part-time, and recently celebrated a full year of part-time employment. But we have not dared ask, “where will this all lead?” or “What are your plans when you get your degree?”. We didn’t dare. It has been enough, the reality of these first steps. We tend to stay focused on today.

But Ben must be gaining confidence, as he now talks about wanting to “give back to the world” – as a teacher, perhaps, or an author. Will he get there? He just might. But, not all overwhelming goals, I am encouraging him to take one step toward each one and re-assess as the view gets closer.

But none of this would be possible without the treatment he is receiving for his schizophrenia. None of it. Without treatment, he would most likely be homeless, in jail, in a nursing home, or – let’s just say it – no longer alive. Now, with treatment (medical, and also emotional and structural),  we have hope, and have taken one more small step:  his life also has promise.

Treatment is too often denied, not funded, not mandated – and that is a shame. Watch this video from the Treatment Advocacy Center about how Treatment Makes a Difference. Because it does. And we must keep fighting for it.

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The Parents Network: Eyes, Ears, Heart and Soul

bipolar nation schofieldYesterday I had the pleasure of swapping stories, issues and tips with Susan Schofield, Host of Bipolar Nation on LA Talk Radio, and her husband Michael, author of January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness, and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her. (reviewed in my last post)

Sure,we were talking author-to-author, host-to-guest, but mostly we were talking parent-to-parent.

Here is the episode of the show where you can download or hear our conversation.

We need each other. I can’t tell you how inspired, informed, and encouraged I have been by the hundreds of families I have met and shared with in the years since Ben’s first symptoms. Some of these encounters have been at NAMI Meetings and Classes, some by e-mail, in media or live appearances, others in the pages of books.

Without you all, I don’t know how we would have survived. Thank you – for the courage to speak up, the willingness to ask questions and fight, the empathy to reach out.

This is what I hope to give back to you in the pages of Ben Behind His Voices, and in meeting you too.

Together we can make a difference. My favorite cliche – because, like many cliches, it is true.

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Schizophrenia and “Perception”: Will it be Accurate?

Tonight TNT unveils a new series called “Perception” , in which Eric McCormack plays a brilliant neuroscientist with a full-blown case of schizophrenia.

According to the NY Times, here is the premise:

Colorful characters that only Pierce can see pop up to help him solve murder cases he consults on for his spunky F.B.I. buddy, played by Rachael Leigh Cook. These apparitions badger Pierce with what appear to be non sequiturs and useless information until the last 10 minutes of an episode, when the light bulb goes on, and the murderer is identified.

“Perception” and Mental Illness Stigma

Perception
Eric McCormack plays a neuroscientist in “Perception” on TNT. - JanThijs/TNT

The review goes on to say that this is “TV-Fantasy schizophrenia” – so what does that mean? The hallucinations are useful? Cute? Just a manageable feature of a slightly-eccentric personality?

Will the fictional Daniel Pierce take meds? Will he have had any hospitalizations in his past? Does his family stick with him? Does he have friends? Is he stigmatized at all by his illness?

Will this show help spread misconceptions about schizophrenia as a cute illness, handy for solving crimes, rather than an acute illness?

We will have to wait and see. I’m taping it tonight. I’ve suggested to Ben that he watch it too, but I can see that the idea made him uncomfortable. So that, too, will have to wait.

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