I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Joshua, who participated in the documentary “Living With Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery.”
Joshua talked about the stigma associated with living with schizophrenia and shed light on the reality of the illness: Those living with the illness often lead productive lives.
Rebecca S. Roma also is featured in the documentary. She provides viewers with a unique perspective: She works primarily with chronically mentally ill patients who are living in the community after long-term hospitalization. She has dedicated her life to keeping the mentally ill out of hospitals and the legal system.
Click through to read the interview.
Q. Rebecca, why did you choose to participate in the documentary?
A. I was moved by patients’ stories and I was excited to do something that could be educational to patients, families and others involved in the lives of those living with severe mental illness.
Q. In the documentary you explain that people suffering with schizophrenia often experience their first break during late high school or early college years. I experienced symptoms and was diagnosed with juvenile bipolar disorder at age 12. What are your thoughts on such early diagnosis?
A. I think that people with schizophrenia may have a prodrome (a precursor to the emergence of disease), but psychotic break is not until later. I think it is difficult to label a young person, but you can have a rule-out diagnosis. If there are symptoms as a child I think they should be treated regardless of a definitive diagnosis, if other causes are ruled out.
Q. What is your opinion regarding negative media coverage on schizophrenia? For example, those living with the illness often are portrayed as being violent.
A. I think that often law enforcement agents are not educated enough about how to recognize mental illness. Time and time again I read about situations with unnecessary force being used.
If more people were in treatment and stabilized on medication, perhaps these confrontations could be avoided. The problem is both with access to mental health care as well as not enough education for police and others who may come into contact with persons with schizophrenia.
Q. Within the documentary, you state that patients have a difficult time trusting care providers. Can you elaborate on this?
A. Many times patients have the impression that they have been mistreated by care providers. This is in part due to the fact that many times patients’ insight has deteriorated to the point that they are forced to receive treatment involuntarily.
If people were stabilized on medication such as long-acting injectables, they may gain the insight to form collaborative partnerships with treatment teams. The way health care is set up, oftentimes patients have the impression that not enough time is spent with them. Oftentimes psychiatrists are required to only spend 15 minutes per patient. Therefore developing strong therapeutic alliances with the patient is a challenge.
Q. You talk about the reality of schizophrenia. Millions of people live with this illness. If you could tell our readers one thing regarding that, what would it be?
A. Many people have schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. Often persons with schizophrenia are stable and living a fulfilling life. Schizophrenia is not synonymous with aggression or violence. The cases that make the news are the exceptions. Most of us know people who are suffering but they can be “hidden” because their symptoms are under good control.
People living with mental illness are just people. They are not defined by their illness. It is just a small part of who they are or how they live their lives. If you have a mentally ill family member, get them into treatment. Encourage long-acting therapy so that relapses are minimized. Work with the treatment team if you can to help your loved one.
Q. Do you have anything you would like to share with our readers?
A. Schizophrenia is a chronic disease but hope is needed to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. It is not a death sentence!
Q. Do you have a particular book or article(s) you would like to direct our readers to?
A. I think that NAMI is an important group for both persons with disease as well as families. I think also the more people who can actually view the documentary the better.
Dr. Roma received her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She completed residency training in psychiatry at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, a component of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. During her residency, she was a recipient of the American Psychiatric Association/Janssen Resident Scholarship. Dr. Roma is Board Certified in Adult Psychiatry. You can view the documentary she is featured in, “Living With Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery” on the Choices in Recovery website. The site is a service of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, maker of psychiatric medications for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.