Why the Medical Model Isn't Enough for Someone With Schizophrenia

Recently I was asked to speak at a men’s group on my new book. After giving a short presentation, I opened the door for questions. The first question was, “So what is schizophrenia?”

In my infinite wisdom… Yeah, right. I answered with a nervous, tired reply: “Well, we don’t really know.” My answer to that question was initially lack luster. Thankfully, I did add many further educated comments on the subject.

That question has followed me around the last few weeks. To understand what schizophrenia is, or what society has chosen to believe, I think it’s important to talk about basic scientific principles, spiritual perspectives, and personal experience. To me, if a person ignores one aspect of these categories, negative stigma towards mental health issues is enforced. I feel slightly offended and limited when someone tells me I simply have a biological problem that’s treatable with medications. I think it’s vital to admit we don’t fully understand schizophrenia. Even the most brilliant scientific minds have to admit that there is no known cure to the illness.  Many people with schizophrenia would prefer not to be labeled as “ill.” Some people with schizophrenia think they are gifted, or at least unique in a positive sense. Some people labeled with schizophrenia also don’t like the name.

“Madness” or mental illness has been around and recorded for thousands of years. To better understand schizophrenia, you have to talk about its history. The term schizophrenia was first coined in 1908. In 1886 the illness was associated with dementia. Schizophrenia was first labeled dementia praecox — early onset of dementia. The treatment of schizophrenia has drastically improved over the last 100 years since it was first recognized as a mood disorder. Schizophrenia does not mean people have a split personality. Many people are fighting for society to understand that mental illness, including schizophrenia, is a biological health problem treatable with medications. While this is true, I think it’s important to understand that in my experience, the treatments available for schizophrenia are not ideal or comprehensive. Many well-meaning people overlook the fact that drugs available have so many negative side effects that most people can’t stand to take a large enough dose to combat their symptoms, especially for consistent, prolonged periods of time.

In my opinion, success over schizophrenia usually involves personal development. If you want to help the mentally ill and understand schizophrenia, I encourage you to research scientific, environmental, spiritual and personal perspectives of the condition. NAMI.org is a great starting point. Catholicism has a number of great publications on mental health issues. There are numerous memoirs available to read. Understanding the personal dynamics of mental health issues is life changing. Schizophrenia extends beyond the comforts of one basic definition.

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Thinkstock photo via Tzido

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