Lately, it seems wherever I turn, there is an article about schizophrenia. Recently, I read one in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the LA Times. I am happy and thankful that schizophrenia is getting so much mainstream attention and it isn’t all bad.
One article was about how hard it is to make friends when you have schizophrenia. Another article was about what dating is like with schizophrenia. The third one was terrible news about a young man whose family had tried repeatedly over the years to get him treatment and then, during a psychotic episode, he tried to kill his parents. Now he is getting his much needed treatment, but it happens to be in jail. The last one is not a story most caregivers or people with schizophrenia want to read. We don’t want to read it, because we know that getting treatment for a family member who desperately needs it is at times frustrating, and nearly impossible. Of course we also don’t want to read it, because it reinforces the stereotypes and stigma of a severe mental illness. We aren’t all dangerous.
After reading these articles in the last week or so, I asked myself, what would I like the world to know about schizophrenia? If I could write these articles what would they be about? Well, I love the articles about friendship and dating, because they humanize people with a mental illness and they help chip away at the stereotypes. When Hollywood started casting more people of color in films (they need to work even harder at this) it helped everyone see a more diverse America, and help expand our ideas of what is beautiful. Seeing people of color on the front of magazine, as CEOs, and of graduates of the best schools, etc. helps end stereotypes, it helps change perceptions. It is beneficial to all of us. The same is true about seeing people with schizophrenia in magazines and movies (as long as the increased coverage doesn’t just use stereotypes of stigma). So, yes, yes, yes in terms of seeing those of us with schizophrenia as more human. I love these articles.
But, there is another thing, a lifesaving thing that I would love to see covered on a regular basis in the media, and that is psychosis. The most difficult times for a person with a severe mental illness is during a psychotic episode, because that is when they are most likely to be hurt, or hurt themselves or someone else. We need to have a conversation about how to talk to someone who is psychotic.
When someone is psychotic they are more likely to have an encounter with the police. If the police ask that person to put up their hands, or get down on the ground, the psychotic person may not comply. They may not understand the action they are being asked to take, or they may be having delusions about being injured, or tortured, or in some way being harmed. This puts the person who is mentally ill at great risk of being injured by police who are concerned about their own and other’s safety.
I would like to have an open, and public, discussion with psychiatrists, caregivers, and people with schizophrenia how best to communicate with a person suffering from psychosis. I would like to have people properly trained to deal with a person who is psychotic so they could prevent that person from hurting themselves, hurting someone else, or being hurt by police. It is so important.
I have thought long and hard about what to say to someone who is psychotic to help ease their fear, or paranoia. I don’t know exactly what would help. It may be as simple as asking repeatedly, “Are you okay? Do you need to see a doctor?” I’m honestly not sure of the best way to reach a person suffering psychosis, but together we may be able to come up with answers that would definitely save lives.