My daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002 and it was like stepping into a nightmare for our whole family. Our prior experiences with mental illness with other family members held many painful and negative associations.
Through the hospital where she was first treated my daughter was referred to an early treatment program for psychosis. She almost missed out on the opportunity to be accepted by this program because she was prescribed medication for psychosis in the community before her hospitalization. Because the early intervention program in our community is research based, to qualify for admission, patients could not have taken medication for psychosis prior to admission to the program. My daughter had not complied with the medication she was prescribed and we could provide proof, therefore she was admitted to the program. Within the program there were many treatments and supports available for the patient and family.
I question why general practitioners or psychiatrists in our community would treat, rather than refer patients to a program where a patient would receive so many treatments and supports. A person with psychosis can have a very difficult time accessing services and supports that are not coordinated. I saw for myself how she could have lost her apartment because she did not fill out forms or did not fill out forms properly and I saw she needed assistance until she was able to deal with the stresses of daily living.
As I mentioned many of our associations with mental illness were painful and negative. We found ourselves seeking out someone with schizophrenia who was living successfully with the illness rather than being a victim of the illness. We hoped to find a person who was going to school or working and dealing with issues such as acceptance, disclosure, medication, sexuality, substance abuse, finances, fitness, pregnancy, careers and any issues adolescent and young adults’ need to address.
The early intervention program offered peer support and counseling and we sought out and found young people who were willing to meet and encourage my daughter and this has helped immeasurably.
My daughter experienced psychosis and was commanded by visions and voices to harm herself. She was cutting herself and was commanded to jump from moving cars and off buildings. During her stay in hospital we had discovered she could draw her illness and experiences and we found we could then discuss her thoughts and feelings through the art and we were able to talk in greater detail and with more understanding than with words alone. Being told she had mental illness filled her with pain and fear of the future and there was no way except through the art she could express what she was feeling in a unique way that held meaning for her.
When she came home she was still harming herself and we discovered that through art she was able to express herself and relieve herself of these harmful thoughts on paper and move away from self harm. In our experience art has played a very important role. We have journals and pictures of my daughter’s journey through mental illness.
My daughter is now going to university part time and working part time in the art business. She is called upon to speak with individuals with schizophrenia and with community and mental health groups about her illness and recovery. Her struggle with psychosis takes a lot of courage, faith and belief in herself and in the mental health system. Thanks to early intervention my daughter is able to have hope in the return to a normal and productive life.