My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

To medicate or not to medicate? That is the question.


I hope Shakespeare fans don’t roll their eyes because I changed his famous quote from Hamlet. It fit my thoughts perfectly today.

Yesterday, a photo of my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith posted to a group I belong to on Facebook. Below the photo, the moderator added a synopsis of our story. In one of the comments, I read a negative opinion about medications. This helped me remember that we don’t all agree that medicines help someone with mental illness. The person who posted the comment seemed against them and listed their reasons.

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My opinion is different. And since this is my blog, I will share my thoughts about medication and mental illness. I believe the correct medications helped my daughter get her life back.

In 2004, my adult, college-educated daughter, Amber began to act differently from her usual self. It quickly spiraled into a world of fear for her as paranoid thoughts overtook her. At first, I thought it would pass. It didn’t. Instead, it got worse and worse. Eventually, she lost the ability to communicate with us.

It wasn’t until we got her into treatment with a psychiatrist (M.D. with additional education in psychiatry) that things improved for her. He diagnosed her with schizophrenia. He prescribed medicine and recommended therapy. We moved her back home. I helped her manage the medications and took her to see a counselor until she felt well enough to do it for herself. This treatment plan helped her brain form the proper connections again and I saw improvement come at a slow, but steady pace. It took several years of her hard work and patience but she regained her independence.

I believe the medications that Amber took then and still takes today are the reason she lives a life similar to other people her age. At one point, while under the care of her psychiatrist, still in our home, and in therapy twice month, she stopped taking the anti-psychotic medication. The symptoms that plagued her earlier returned with a vengeance. This convinced Amber (and me) that she needed the medication.

Today, she works full-time, lives on her own, and manages her illness with ongoing treatment while she leads a busy social life.

Since this happened in our family, I like to read about scientists who study the brain and what occurs during mental illness. Brain imaging helps them track the processes both with medication and without. They continue to discover new treatments such as magnetic therapy as well as the effects different medications have on the molecular processes in the brain. I live with the hope that through research, treatments become even more effective with fewer side effects. If you want to learn more about medications, the National Institute of Mental Health discusses medications, what they do, and the side effects caused by using them.

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My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

We’re in…


 

Statistics show that one in five adults are affected by a mental health condition in a given year. 20 % of our population! I admit, I didn’t think about this much. It happened to someone else, another family – not mine.

From 1975 on, when Roy and I got married , my family appeared to be “normal.” By 2004, we had four adult children, all of them on their own. They worked or continued to study while Roy, my husband and I worked and enjoyed our jobs.

In late 2004, we became part of the statistic – 1 in 5 individuals affected, 1 in 4 families and the 1 in 100 individuals that deal with schizophrenia. I could not ignore it any longer. Over the course of a few months, I took a crash course in how to handle a loved one with a mental health condition.

I’m so grateful I found our local NAMI organization. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offered me a shoulder to lean on and the education to understand. As a result of their support, I was able to react to my situation with love and patience. I learned all I could by reading books on the subject and taking the Family to Family class. But that’s me. It’s how I roll. It’s how life has taught me to react.

Our story has a happy ending. Our child lived with us for four years and came to understand her illness. She worked hard to move into recovery and stay there. It’s been nine years since her first episode of psychosis. With the help of doctors, therapists, counselors, family and friends she fought against the symptoms and won. Today she works full-time, lives on her own and manages all her own affairs. She understands her need for medication, regular doctor appointments and a counselor she can trust.

To say I’m proud of my child is an understatement. We may be part of the statistic, but it doesn’t define her or our family.  She isn’t schizophrenic, she has schizophrenia and she manages her illness.

As a result of my journey, I work now to bring awareness and hope to the families whose loved one suffers.  I understand that when a child battles an illness, the family’s life changes forever, too.  Now, I feel compelled to support other families who travel a similar path. I work to offer awareness to a wide-spread issue and also to bring hope that recovery is possible. I dream of a day when it happens for everyone. Until then, I plan to continue to involve others in a discussion about mental health conditions. It affects us all.

For information about free education about mental health conditions go to National Alliance on Mental Illness Programs.

To find publications about mental health conditions visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

Broken Brain Fortified Faith book coverBroken Brain, Fortified Faith

 

 

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

RAISE awareness about R.A.I.S.E.


July 2015

RAISE Awareness about R.A.I.S.E. What does that mean?

In April 2015, I watched a webinar conducted by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation that released the findings for a study called R.A.I.S.E. (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode). The research project originated from NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health).

After watching it, I felt empowered. I felt validated. I felt humbled. As I listened, I heard the doctors and scientists discuss what I call the village approach geared for persons enduring a  first episode psychosis. (FEP) The goal: recovery.

First, R.A.I.S.E. involved a team that met on a regular basis. The team consisted of specialists who work with the patient on a personalized plan for treatment. The study called it Coordinated Specialty Care. (CSC). The specialists offered psychotherapy, medication management,  tailored to the patient, education and support for the family, case management, and work or education support for the individual. Shared decisions were made between the team, the individual and family members, when possible.        Another goal of the study was to work with the team as soon as possible after the psychotic symptoms appeared. SEE (Supported Employment/Education) was encouraged for the individual to work towards recovery.

Why my feelings of empowerment, validation, humility?

The study used a model that appeared somewhat similar to our approach with our daughter Amber after doctors diagnosed her with schizophrenia. She had exhibited many of the symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, distorted thinking, difficulty finishing a task, trouble focusing, and reduced speaking. This was not how our twenty-four-year-old daughter acted in the past. We sought help as we did the following:

  1. We had her in treatment almost immediately.
  2. We found the NAMI organization just in time to enroll in a class immediately and began our education.
  3. Although all those involved in helping her move into recovery didn’t meet as a team, our family kept the communication between the therapist and the doctor up-to-date. I kept a diary of Amber’s daily emotions and faxed it to them prior to her appointments, usually 24 hours in advance. At times I advised her therapist of changes in her medications.
  4. Amber became part of the process. She wanted to recover. We worked at home daily with games that exercised her brain. Word games, number games, card games – anything that I thought would engage her broken brain and encourage healing.
  5. We contacted our local Vocational Rehab office and Amber trained for a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and then later studied nursing. She found part-time employment when she felt able to handle the work.

As I watched the webinar presented by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in 2015, I realized we had used many of the same components implemented by the R.A.I.S.E. study which began in 2009.

But why, the feelings?

Amber received her diagnosis in January 2005, four years before the study began. By 2009, after four years of working toward recovery, she had moved out of our home. In 2009, she had a job, she shared an apartment with friends and led an active social life. We still helped her manage her finances, but she had almost reached full independence.

Now, eleven years later she continues to live in recovery.  She continues to work full-time, manages all her own affairs/finances and leads a similar life to others her age. Her social calendar seems to burst at the seams. She also manages her medications and her appointments. She understands her illness and her need to take care of her health.

When I listened to the study, I felt validated, I felt empowered, I felt humbled. We had approached her schizophrenia in the correct manner. And I thank God that we did. I’m grateful I was given the graces I needed to guide her on her road to recovery.

I live in hope that one day all those affected with schizophrenia, or any of the mental illnesses,  will experience a similar outcome. Until then, let’s reach out to those hurting, and to their families, with all the compassion and understanding we can muster.

RAISE Study

NIMH

NAMI

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