Tag Archives: mental illness information

What Exactly is Schizophrenia, Anyway?

I often get this question, even years after our family’s openness about Ben’s mental illness.Education is Power

Recently I came across this guide from Juno Medical, and it explains it all really well!




Here is an excerpt:

What is schizophrenia?

The word “schizophrenia” derives from the Greek “skhizein” (to split) and “phrēn” (mind) and indicates a long-term mental disorder that involves cognitive, behavioural, and emotional dysfunctions.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30 and can be divided into positive, negative, and cognitive ones.

Positive symptoms

Positive symptoms refer to an excess or distortion of normal functions.

Hallucinations: hallucinations can involve all 5 senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch). Hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. People with the disorder hear voices that talk to them about their behaviour, give them commands or threaten them or others.

Delusions: delusions involve having a distorted image of what is happening in the reality. Delusions can be persecutory, where people believe that others are trying to harm them or plotting against them, and delusions of reference, where people think that the environment is directly related to them, e.g. they believe they receive special messages through the TV or the radio.

Disorganized speech and behaviour: the person shows incoherent speech that impairs effective communication as well as difficulties in completing basic day-to-day activities. It also includes bizarre or inappropriate behaviour.

Negative symptoms

Negative symptoms refer to a decrease in socialization, motivation, emotional responsiveness, and movement.

Apathy: the person shows lower interest in activities that used to be part of his or her everyday life, such as work, studies, or sport. Personal hygiene and appearance may also suffer noticeably.

Lack of emotion: patients show diminished affective responsiveness or display inappropriate reaction – or no reaction at all – to either good or bad news. People with schizophrenia may also show anhedonia, which defines an inability to experience pleasure.

Poor social functioning: the person avoids contacts with other people and prefers to spend time alone and isolated.

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms involve difficulties with memory and concentration.

Disorganized thoughts: schizophrenia sufferers may demonstrate disorganized thinking and difficulties in expressing thoughts or integrating feelings and behaviour.

Difficulty concentrating: the person displays attention deficit and the inability to gather and process information and make decision out of it.

Poor memory: the person will have trouble keeping recently learned information and use it to carry out a task.

  • Hebephrenic schizophrenia: also known as disorganized schizophrenia, this subtype involves incoherent, illogical thoughts and behaviours, and emotional blunting.

want to know more? check it out!

Here is the link to the full guide from Juno Medical.




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What if Target’s Sweater Poked “Fun” at Cancer?

What if it said "Christmas cancer. My spending is growing uncontrollably"?
What if it said “Christmas cancer. My spending is growing uncontrollably”?

Is really “just a shirt”?

This week, social media has been abuzz with two “holiday” issues so far: the Starbucks Cup ( and there’s not much left to say) and a sweater still being sold by Target which amusingly ( to their buyers, I suppose) calls O.C.D. “Obsessive Christmas Disorder.”

Mental Health Advocates are up in arms about this “joke”, which not only trivializes a serious and sometimes debilitating condition, but in doing so spreads misunderstanding and stigma. Target is refusing to remove the sweater from its racks, and its supporters say “oh, get a life, it’s just a harmless joke.”

But what if the sweater read:

 I have Christmas


My spending just keeps growing out of control.

I ask you, what then? Would anyone be supporting Target’s “right to make a joke”? Continue reading What if Target’s Sweater Poked “Fun” at Cancer?

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Sons with Schizophrenia: A Tale of Three Mothers

Love matters...but it's not enough
Love matters…but it’s not enough

Three mothers with so much in common, we could form a club. Each raised one son and one daughter, through adolescence into young adulthood. Each loves her children with all her heart. And, sadly, each of our brilliant, happy, sweet sons began to change in their mid-teens, and were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. We have each written about our experiences, shared our stories so they might help others.

But our stories have taken three very different turns. Today, one of these mothers mourns the death of her son, who passed away in “individual housing” earlier this year. Another of us sits stoically in a courtroom as her son is being tried for shooting moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. And I, the lucky one, get to hug my son as he heads off to work, in his car, filled with gas that he paid for himself. For today, yes, I am the lucky one.

My heart goes out to the other mothers, even though I have never met them. I only know them through their writings, but I feel their struggles, their pain, their guilt, their love. Anyone who lives with mental illness in their family knows that we live life with crossed fingers, and we fight with all our might to make the right decisions.

And it is far from easy. Continue reading Sons with Schizophrenia: A Tale of Three Mothers

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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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The Tragic Newtown Shooting: Attention Must Be Paid

The horrors of 9/11 got us into wars overseas, and the memories continued to be used to justify our involvement there. Will the tragedy in Newtown get us into a war against easy access to assault weapons, underfunded mental health services,  stalled research, and lack of support?

Newtown Grief
Never Forget. Act to Prevent.

Details continue to unfold about what might have contributed to the horrific incidents Friday in my neighboring town of Newtown, CT.

It is beyond comprehension, yet we struggle to find some threads that might prevent a repeat of it.

Many will, I hope and pray, start to listen and make changes to some of the issues involved: smarter gun control, earlier detection of mental health problems, and more access to (and insistence upon) treatment for those problems.

As we struggle to “search for solutions” (this week’s topic on Good Morning America), I hope we also get to find out what Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, had struggled with.

  • Did she try to get help for her son, only to be denied because he was “legally an adult, and there’s nothing we can do now”?
  • Was she left with no choice but to home-school her son after he dropped out of high school?
  • Was she lost in a desperate attempt to hang on to some sort of bonding with a son she loved, but was losing to mental illness? (in her case, by teaching him about guns, taking to shooting ranges)
  • Did she even know how to navigate the confusing world of mental health services, only to find no road map, no support, no funding?
  • Did the stigma and blame of having a son with mental health problems keep them isolated and feeling there was no community left for them?

All of these things were true for us, at times. We had to, have to, fight every step of the way to get help, support, understanding. We are lucky. Ben’s nature is sweet and peace-loving. Even his “grand delusions” when in psychosis were about writing the perfect poem that will create world peace. Also, we found help and community in NAMI, and Ben got support from an ICCD clubhouse, a residential facility, outpatient treatment, and newer medications that had not existed decades ago.

But the truth of the matter is that too many familes (like, I suspect, the Lanzas) simply give up before they can find help and support. They are left to “fix it themselves.” Too many families are wiped out financially (as we were), emotionally (as we often were) and socially (as we sometimes were) before they find new paths to recovery. To help these families, I wrote our book, “Ben Behind His Voices”, and advocate for the kind of help that might have prevented Adam Lanza from committing the most horrific crime the world could ever imagine.

I don’t “know for sure” (Oprah phrase) that this tragedy could have been prevented. But, as the mother of someone who has a mental illness and has managed to find hope, I can’t help but wonder – no, suspect – that the answer is yes. This did not have to happen.

We must all fight for understanding, research, funding of services, turning stigma into treatment, and supporting the families who are, too often, ill-prepared to fight mental illness alone.

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Ben Behind His Voices: One Year Into a Book’s Life

Hard to believe that the book launch party for Ben Behind His Voices was over a year ago now. The “new book smell” is gone. How are we doing?

Perhaps writing a book is like being pregnant: you’re changing your life, making plans, working hard – yet have no real idea of what is coming into your life. Publication is like giving birth, perhaps – ah, here it is!, maybe the hard part is over.

Tend the Garden of Success Each Day

If that is true, then launching your book out in to the world is like raising a child. You have to work at it, every day – and, even so, there’s much that is not truly in your control. You do your best, you try things from every angle, and then you hope that child will grow well, and touch the lives it/he/she is meant to touch.  Keeping book interest high is a garden authors must tend every day – and, like a garden, the seasons are ever-changing.

So – here we are, one year in – and the biggest discovery for me, I think, is that people are still discovering the book.  Unlike a flavor-of-the-month flashy new novel, the memoir seems to be more of a turtle than a hare – and that’s just fine with me.

Sure, no Oprah appearance yet. Was booked onto Dr. Drew, but bumped by Hurricane Isaac updates. Ah, show biz…. Still working toward that “magical National appearance”, perhaps – but there has quite a lot of press on the local, state, and Public Broadcast level. And, the book is young, and so far very well-received, both by reviewers and by readers who reach out to me.  So I don’t think the chance is gone. At least, I hope not.

My publisher, who has had to move on to the new releases, seems to have noticed that book sales are growing instead of fading, as I got a note from my editor: “It’s great the book is still garnering interest.  Usually things really trail off after the first year.”

Not if I can help it! Not when I’m still receiving letters from readers like this one: Continue reading Ben Behind His Voices: One Year Into a Book’s Life

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What Else is New?: Research, Reviews, Presentations

Quick Updates: (1,2,3…)

1. Ben Behind His Voices Comes to New York City!

Venture House
Reserve and Come to Free Event!



Venture House, Inc. sponsoring this awareness raiser – hope to see you there!

On September 20th, 6 PM (reception) 6:30 PM (Book Reading and Discussion) –

Zucker Hillside Hospital – 266th St. and 76th Ave

Glen Oaks, NY 11104

reserve your (free) seat at events@venturehouse.org

(Venture House is a clubhouse program
located in Jamaica, New York City that provides services to adults with mental illnesses)


2. 4HealingHearts Radio show – Conversation about Mental Health, Hope, Info, and Empathy – 8/3/12

have a listen here! or here’s the link to download it

Listen to internet radio with 4healinghearts on Blog Talk Radio

3. More BBHV Reader Reviews: Thanks!

Thanks to the BBHV Readers on Goodreads for rating and reviews, including these:
Kathy says: What an amazing book! Very informative, but above all, the love the author has for her son, Ben, shines through – even when Ben is feeling his worst… I highly recommend this book to anyone, if only to learn more about mental illness & how it changes the life of the person who has it & the lives of his family & friends.

Leslie: “Wow. So humane. So moving. This is going to be the first book I recommend to therapy patients and families dealing with schizophrenia. ”

btw, Goodreads is a terrific site for those of us who love to read. Check it out!

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Practical Advice: Treatment Advocacy Center

This post is for you if you need some clear, practical advice on how to be prepared for a mental illness emergency. The possibility always lurks in the corner, while we try to keep on eye on gratitude for the good days.  The Treatment Advocacy Center has an excellent page on this topic, with step-by-step instructions for keeping the monsters at bay by knowing we are ready for them.

I will send you there through this blog post by their Communications Director, Doris Fuller, who says:

We who love someone with a severe mental illness probably all have our own personal coping mechanisms for getting through the worry and fear and frustration of living with the impact of treatable but chronic brain disease. The demons retreat, but they never retire. For me, being ready for them is the first defense.

I suggest you read her short, poignant-yet-realistic post first, but if you’re impatient here’s the link to the Be Prepared for an Emergency page.

Like all preparation, this takes time – but will save you a lot more in the future. Trust me.

Thanks, by the way, to all of you who wrote to express concern about Ben and his “adventure” in a questionable neighborhood. Like Doris in the above blog post, I had my eye out for a stress-triggered return of symptoms, but luckily his reactions to the stress all seem quite conventional. The only “demons” were the ones I could see as well: fear of returning to that neighborhood, reminding us to set our home alarm and change the locks, some reluctance to be alone. I would feel the same way.

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Independent Living and Mental Illness: How Much, How Soon?

When a hug could fix everything…

I’ve spent a good part of this afternoon yelling at the people who are supposed to be supporting my son as he completes his first two weeks in “supported independent living.” This was determined to be the next logical step after doing so well in his group home – that’s what they told me, anyway.

Yeah. sure. Where is the support? In these two weeks, he has become isolated when not at work, has clearly (to us) somehow cheecked his meds twice, and has “forgotten” to show up for morning meds once.  He also missed an appointment with his caseworker. This, too, he “forgot”  – and they caseworker let it slide. After the initial move-in rush, Ben has not finished unpacking. I’ll bet there are roaches crawling over unwashed dishes in his sink.  I hope not, but let’s just say I have concerns.

Why? Well, it could be the stress of too much change too soon. After seven years in Harrison House – where he had 24/7 staffing, 7 housemates, required chores and meetings, and someone to be accountable to – Ben now is expected to live alone, and “take responsibility.”  Except for showing up twice a day to take meds, he is left to his own schedule, his own decisions, his own life. Ben has lost his community, his sense of purpose, his structure and his parental figures.  All without gradual steps. It’s like they threw him down a flight of stairs and said good luck.
And, oh sure, we’ll take you to the hospital if you break a leg. But we won’t bother cushioning your fall or providing a handrail.

Add to that the fact that Ben’s school semester ended during this time, he no longer has required meetings to go to, and he has no one to play cards with, say good morning to, watch Iron Chef with. Yeah, he said he hated Harrison House and couldn’t wait to get out – but even the things he did to get away from there (extra NA or AA meetings, community Clubhouse, nights spent with his family) were good for him. If not for his job, he’d he alone all the time. And that is not good for anyone.

On June 9th, I’ll be the keynote speaker at Fellowship Place in New Haven CT, where they provide community to those like Ben who so desperately need it – and cannot get it elsewhere. I wish Ben lived near their program. If he would go. Things we’re required to do sometimes help us the most.

Several calls to the office later, I have spoken to every possible staff member about Ben’s tricks for not keeping his meds in his system. If they have to tattoo it on his arm, I don’t care. Watch him taking the meds – every second – and make sure he sits afterward according to doctor’s orders. No bathroom, no cigarette breaks. Come on! How hard is that? Why doesn’t every per diem staff member have access to that info?
But – more than that – where is the plan they promised to make this transition easier?  When I asked his caseworker, I got this response: “Well, we do a plan after 30 days, after we get to know him.”

Really? When and how do you plan to know him? Do you know how a kid can fall through the cracks in 30 days? How will you know if he’s isolating himself?

Will it be too late when you finally notice him?

Quote from the Fellowship Place website: “It is possible to overcome the effects of severe mental illness and move from homelessness, poverty, and despair to a life of hope and self-sufficiency”

Yes- with love, a good plan, a sense of purpose, and the right meds. What if I were not there to step in? What about the people whose families have given up?

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Schizophrenia Recreated in a Computer

How does schizophrenia develop in the brain?  What happens? Dr. Ralph Hoffman creates “hyperlearning” in computers, which then recalled stories as a schizophrenic patient might.

Hear the interview here.

“Reporting in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers write of modeling schizophrenia in a computerized simulation of the brain’s connections, called a “neural network.” Yale psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Hoffman, an author on the paper, discusses what his team has learned from the model.”

Why? To learn.  If we’d never gone into space we’d never have the global networks we enjoy now.  To my mind – and for the 1 in every 100 people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia – the more we learn, the better.
Research is vital to understanding – and to eventually finding a cure.  We’ll get every dollar spent on research back tenfold if those with mental illness can truly recover.

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