I work in a place where the differences between what is real and what isn’t have no distinctions. Where “Jack” sneaks into the window at night to steal thoughts from their heads, where they hear the sound of “my” voice telling them to kill themselves, where the “bloody man” in the corner sits and tells them to do bad things to others.
When I started working in a behavioral health clinic I was both nervous and excited. Nervous because I had no idea what to expect and excited because I really believed that I could make a difference. I came into the clinic thinking I would just be working with the straight clear cut definition of what mental illnesses are, what I didn’t realize at the time is that no such definition exists and there was so much more to it; what I was taught in all my textbooks, the classifications of what is “Schizophrenic Disorder” was only the beginning of my understanding of what these people suffer with.
The DSM criteria of “Schizophrenia” gives you a description on the symptoms of what a person with schizophrenia displays, and while it is a great reference in diagnosing a person for a mental illness, it is a bad tool to use in judging a person, and that is what I believe we are guilty of doing.
We categorize people who suffer from this illness all in a certain way; we view them not as people but as a scary disease and we tend to forget that if they did not have this psychotic disorder they would be just like the rest of us. I work with a population that have nowhere else to go, they are under conservatorship (all rights decided by another person of “sound mind”) that was decided by a judge by their counties. The residents in this facility are not very likely to remit from their disorder, they participate in the program in hopes that they can learn to deal with symptoms of the disorder so they can live as independently as possible in a community without distress, or possible harm to self or someone else. Many of the residents will never be able to live independently again.
We view clinics like these that treat chronic psychotic disorders as scary, and it can be scary when we see someone becoming agitated and hostile towards someone else because they are experiencing a delusion. People with schizophrenia are very unpredictable and when working with them you have to always be alert, but as crazy as it sounds I would not want to work anywhere else.
These residents here are just as we say “a person who has schizophrenic disorder”, they are a person who is ill and not and illness in itself. Many of the residents I work with are doctors, professors, or contractors. I speak with mother’s who miss their children and husbands who miss their wives. Each of these people have a story, some diagnosed so young they never had a chance to live, all of them had their lives taken because of this disease and if you think it is scary watching a person experience a psychotic break, imagine being the one experiencing it.
Two researchers that I truly admire in the contribution in breaking down some of the schemas that comes with schizophrenia are Marius A.J. Romme and Alexandre D.M.A.C. Escher. In 1989 they began a research experiment that started a movement in which helped people who experienced auditory hallucinations cope with their symptoms by bringing them together to talk about their struggles and how they deal with their symptoms.
20 of their participants that were involved in this experiment were brought on television to talk about how they cope with their disorder and it was so empowering that it started a movement that continues still today. Most people no matter what the situation is want to feel like they can control their own lives and unfortunately when a person battles a mental illness the ability of control is difficult and this may lead to many other problems such as anxiety, depression and hopelessness, and as a result worsen symptoms. Romme and Escher proved that these people are human beings and they can be more than their disorders. Because it is very unlikely that someone with schizophrenia fully recovers, the opportunity to learn to deal with their symptoms and share with others who suffer from the same illness brings hope to a person who has been lost.
Escher, A. D. & Romme, M. A. (1989). Hearing Voices. Schizophrenia Bulletin: Vol. 15, NO. 2. University of Limburg, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
NIMH · Schizophrenia – National Institutes of Health (NIH): (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia)
Hearing Voices Maastricht – The Maastricht Approach: (http://www.hearingvoicesmaastricht.eu/page10.php)
- Link found between childhood trauma and schizophrenia (radionz.co.nz)
- Schizophrenia – Subtypes & Diagnosis (moorestorms.com)
- “People recover from psychotic disorders all the time, all over the world.” Our mental health system’s denial of this costs lives (beyondmeds.com)
- Can we train away schizophrenic symptoms? (bigthink.com)
- Psychotic Disorders And Mood Impacted By Impaired Mitochondrial Function – Medical News Today (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Kony 2012 Director: What is Brief Reactive Psychosis or Brief Psychotic Disorder? (psychcentral.com)
- Rethinking Madness (beyondmeds.com)