Journalist Katy Wilborn sat down with therapist and expert in the field Bradley Dehart to ask a series of questions on Schizophrenia and how people in the community can reach out for help. Schizophrenia is more common in the county than most realize and there needs to be a level of education so there can be a caring and compassionate community to help those individuals in need.
This is what Dehart had to say:
Is there any other condition that could be causing or worsening schizophrenia symptoms?
Schizophrenia symptoms typically run in families. Having a close relative, like a parent or sibling, with the disorder increases the likelihood of developing it.
It is believed that schizophrenia is caused by several factors that include genetics, heredity, environmental factors and environment exposure prior to birth.
Factors that could worsen or trigger symptoms of schizophrenia include extreme stress such as a funeral, physical/emotional abuse, loss of a home or transitioning to a new residence, etc. Drug abuse can also trigger or worsen schizophrenic symptoms as well.
How soon after starting medication will they begin to get better?
Individuals with schizophrenia, on average, start experiencing a reduction in symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions in approximately four to six weeks after starting medication treatment(s).
Be mindful that each person responds very differently to medication(s) and there are many other factors that could contribute to a faster or slower response to medication … and the potential for no response.
What are the chances that the symptoms will stop?
With medication treatment in combination with psychotherapy services and supportive management and education services — the chances that symptoms can be managed and improve are typically significant. Although not everyone responds the same to treatment.
Medication and treatment compliance are critical for reducing and managing symptoms — meaning, the patient would need to consistently take their medications and participate in the treatment plan outlined to realize the best potential outcome.
Is it safe to drink alcohol? If so, how much?
When making the decision to consume alcohol, an individual with schizophrenia (and/or any underlying medical or mental health issue) should exercise extreme caution, as by drinking alcohol could make treating schizophrenic symptoms much more difficult — and I highly recommend consulting with a healthcare provider BEFORE doing so.
Drinking alcohol in combination with (and potentially, without) prescribed medications, may increase and/or intensify symptoms of schizophrenia.
What should they do if they have an emergency, or if their symptoms get worse between office visits?
For anyone experiencing a mental or physical emergency, immediately call 911 or seek emergency treatment at your nearest emergency room.
What kind of psychotherapy would help? How can they find a mental health professional for treatment?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions.
CBT is one of the most common treatment techniques used in therapy to help alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia and many other mental health disorders.
What other kinds of services could help?
Although there is no “cure” for schizophrenia, the goal is to reduce and alleviate negative symptoms associated with the disorder. This can include a combination of treatment that involves psychotherapy services, teaching self-management strategies and encouraging independence, and incorporating antipsychotic medication treatment, to help the patient regulate emotions and thought processes.
What symptoms might be an early warning sign of schizophrenia?
Symptoms of schizophrenia may present differently for a person. Some of the most frequent symptoms among those with schizophrenia may include (but not limited to): delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized behaviors and thought processes.
It is very important to remember however, that a formal diagnosis of schizophrenia should be determined by a medical/mental health professional, following a comprehensive medical evaluation.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms, it is important to contact your medical/mental health provider to help guide the best course of treatment and diagnosis. Several mental health disorders may share similar signs and symptoms and there are many factors to be considered when providing a formal diagnosis and treatment plan.
What should they tell their friends, family, and co-workers about their condition?
A person with schizophrenia should never feel obligated to tell friends or loved ones about their condition, unless they feel comfortable doing so and only when ready.
Education is critical for the patient and the patient’s support system. I encourage the patient to ask for what they need from their loved ones, after telling them. The needs of each person are specific and unique to their situation.
Is it safe for them to work, drive, and provide care for others?
Again, it is extremely important to discuss and determine these decisions to work, drive, and care for others, with your treating medical and/or mental health professional.
Multiple research reports have indicated that approximately 80% or more individuals with schizophrenia were not employed and receiving full disability benefits — and a majority of those who are employed were currently on a long-term sick leave.
It is important to remember how the term “employed” is being defined — as there are many different employment types and opportunities, and a “safe” option for employment should be an informed decision, specific to each person with schizophrenia.
When determining if it is “safe” for a person with schizophrenia to operate a motor vehicle, I recommend this decision to be made individually among the patient and their treating medical provider, as the circumstances and level of functioning and/or ability are unique for each person.
It is not uncommon for the need of a treating medical provider to issue a letter that verifies a patient’s ability to drive. A statement or letter from a medical provider is not specific to only those with schizophrenia but may be required for individuals who experience a life-changing mental, physical or vision disability that limits their ability to operate a vehicle. However, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles provides citizens, medical professionals, and anyone with a concern for another person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, the opportunity to report their concern and a review from the BMV.
This report can be filed by visiting https://www.in.gov/bmv/licenses-permits-ids/driver-ability-program/
Are children at risk for schizophrenia? Should they be checked?
As reported by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), schizophrenia is very uncommon to be diagnosed in children under the age of 12 years old. Most research agrees that the causes of schizophrenia are attributed to multiple factors including — genetics and heredity (you are six times more likely to have or develop schizophrenia if you have a close relative such as a parent or sibling with the disorder), environment (specific to being exposed to viruses or malnutrition before birth increases your risk), brain chemicals (problems with certain brain chemicals like neurotransmitters can increase your risk) and substance abuse (using mind altering drugs during your teen years and young adulthood can increase your risk factors).
Currently, there are NO definitive, medical diagnostic tests that can determine schizophrenia. However, if children and teens are experiencing noticeable changes for six months or more, that include — noticeable withdrawal from friends and family, irritability, increase in paranoid or suspicious thoughts and sleep disturbances, be sure to reach out to a medical or mental health provider for a comprehensive medical evaluation.
How can caregivers prevent burnout?
To prevent burnout, it is important for caregivers and families to be proactive in helping their loved one manage schizophrenia.
I strongly encourage caregivers to continuously learn and become educated about schizophrenia. Education about the disorder can help caregivers to be more compassionate and understanding. Seek out support — caregivers should remember that self-care is a significant way to reduce “burnout” and understand that taking time to care for yourself is necessary to be effective in helping someone around you.
Social media support groups are also a great and convenient way to engage with others who can relate to and empathize with your role as a caregiver.
Is there anybody trained in the medical field located in Perry County?
Yes, Perry County does have outpatient, mental and medical health professionals, who are trained to provide at least “generalized” services to those with a schizophrenic diagnosis and many other mental health related concerns and disorders.
For those who require more intensive or in-patient treatment services or hospitalizations for schizophrenia or mental health issues, I am currently unaware if that is offered locally, but do not believe that is a service in our area at this time — and there are many reasons as to why inpatient psychiatric services are unavailable, but that is a long discussion I believe.
Tell me about something’s that I wouldn’t think to ask that you feel would be helpful for community members who have the condition or take care of someone with the condition would need to know.
I would encourage people in our community to gain as much education and awareness as possible about mental health overall. It is an understated issue not just in our community, but nationwide.
We must consistently speak about mental health and “normalize” seeking treatment, if we are ever going to end the stigma attached to it. NO ONE should ever be subjected to suffering in silence with mental health issues.
For those who are discouraged due to the lack of mental health providers and even specialized services in our area, I will say this to you as a mental health provider … I hear you and I share your frustration.
Unfortunately, there are countless state and federal level complicated barriers (related to getting in network with insurance, obtaining credentials and licensing and so much more) that hold providers like myself, back at the gates of local communities. We are working to break those barriers every day, but please know you are not forgotten or left to fight alone — because we are getting there, slowly but surely.
“To locate a mental health professional for treatment, I would encourage searching online for local services in our area,” DeHart said. DeHart listed several local providers, including — Lifespring Health System, Virtual M.D. Consulting (an affiliate of Perry County Memorial Hospital), River Valley Behavioral Health located in Lewisport and DeHart’s office, Umbrella Therapeutic Services, which can be found by going to www.facebook.com/bradleydehartcswlsw/.
“To find a variety of many other mental health providers, I encourage visiting www.psychologytoday.com,” DeHart said. For those seeking to find more information about mental health disorders, advocacy efforts, support groups and general education, he recommend visiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness.
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