Using Technology to Train the Brain to Overcome Schizophrenia
Using computer technology to address schizophrenia is a new project of Dr. Sophia Vinogradov, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco. Based on the concept of “brain plasticity”, or the ability of the brain to change with exercise, Dr. Vinogradov contends that the use of computer programs can help reshape brains of those with schizophrenia to reduce symptoms and improve recovery prospects.
For the past 10 years, Dr. Vinogradov has focused on the design, implementation, and evaluation of neuroscience-informed computerized exercises to improve these undervalued symptoms–with life-changing implications for patients. A 2012 study demonstrated that “a serious behavioral deficit in schizophrenia, and its underlying neural dysfunction, can be improved by well-designed computer cognitive training, resulting in a better quality of life.”
Mental Illness On Trial
Mental health care? For too many, what actually occurs is mental illness criminalization. How could this be? A new video from The Treatment Advocacy Center, called Mental Illness on Trial (12 minutes), explains how.
“Capitol Ill”, from the Treatment Advocacy Center
The inadequacy of treatment in the public mental health system is the bane of every family navigating the maelstrom of mental illness. The Treatment Advocacy Center, led by renowned American psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, has launched a new media campaign, entitled “A Bed Instead”, to publicize this disgraceful failure. As part of this campaign, “Capitol Ill” is a new video portraying the horrible consequences of insufficient treatment beds in the public mental health system. (3 minutes)
Professor Michael E. Porter: Value in The Health Care System
World renown business strategist Michael E. Porter presents to an audience at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University. His topic is how to reform the health care system to improve results for patients. It is “not a soundbite”, but a detailed look at a challenging subject. The key is not cost containment. It is reorganizing the delivery system to a more integrated one center on the patient and providing and paying for care over the full care cycle. (90 minutes)
Professor Elyn Saks:A Tale of Mental Illness–From The Inside
USC Law Professor, Yale Law School graduate, and author of The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, Elyn Saks speaks forcefully before a TED Conference about the tragedies and triumphs she has experienced in her lifelong psychodyssey with schizophrenia (14 minutes). Saks epitomizes the hope that families must harbor for their loved ones with mental illness even when they are at their worst, knowing in the long run that our loved ones–with proper treatment, attention, support, and love–can also rise to the heights.
History of Psychiatry: 10,000 Years in 10 Minutes
The Royal College of Psychiatrists recounts the history of psychiatry (from a British point of view) in this helpful 10 minute YouTube video, provided a good ultra-high level overview of the field. Families in the maelstrom will find the overview useful especially after some time in the maelstrom.
MTV: True Life: I Live With Schizophrenia
In this 2008 True Life episode, MTV traces the lives of three young people, Josh, Ben, and Amber, all living with schizophrenia. With difficult but necessary realism, the 45 minute episode presents the challenge of living with the disease and its consequences. The episode will help family members and their friends alike better understand the relentless grind that mental illness puts people through. View the episode here.
YouTube video by JohnJustHuman: Schizophrenia: A Recovery
PsychOdyssey has come across a poignant, very personal YouTube video by an articulate young Englishman calling himself JohnJustHuman. For families with a loved one having a psychiatric disability and hearing voices, this video helps improve understanding by personalizing the experience.
John first heard voices when he was 10 years old. In the beginning he thought it was an angel inside his head, and that everyone experienced the same thing but just didn’t talk about it. Over time things grew worse. The angel become a devil. He thought there were cameras watching him everywhere. Suicidal thoughts arose. Depression ensued. He went off to university. Things got worse. He went to hospital. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Things didn’t improve. Again he felt suicidal. He ran away to central London, to the Waterloo Bridge. He climbed over the rail and prepared to jump.
Just then another fellow came by. “I was in your position once,” he said. “But today I’m on top of the world. I have recovered.” Hearing just then for the first time about recovery, John was persuaded to relent. He climbed back over the rail, and there began his own recovery journey. He learned to realize that there were really no cameras watching, no devils taunting. Medication proved important, but cognitve talk therapy proved vital. “It really changed my way of thinking.”
Life improved. John returned to university in 2009. Two years later he had recovered enough to go completely off medications with his psychiatrist’s approval. John concludes his video essay with advice for those who struggle. “Instead of saying to yourself, ‘I’m schizohprenic’, say instead, ‘I have schizophrenia.’ You are not your mental ilness. You are still you.”
Here’s the video. It is well worth its 25 minutes.
Lecture by Dr. Robert Michels: The Next 100 Years of Psychiatry
Robert Michels, M.D., is a Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine, and University Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, where he was formerly Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Dean and Provost for Medical Affairs.Last September, Dr. Michels gave the inaugural lecture in the “We Need To Talk” series presented by the Ideas in Psychiatry program of the University of New Mexico Department of Psychiatry. The program’s purpose is to educate the public about mental illness. Dr. Michel’s lecture is a helpful and thorough overview that can benefit families in the maelstrom. (The lecture is about 90 minutes, but well worth the time.)
In July 2011 PsychOdyssey had the pleasure of attending Dr. Xavier Amador’s presentation at the national NAMI convention in Chicago. An internationally renowned clinical psychcologist and family member (whose late brother Henry had schizophrenia), Dr. Amador speaks frequently around the world about the difficulties posed by anosognosia (the lack of insight) for many who have a severe mental illness. As a means to address it, he also spoke about his “LEAP” approach to helping those who lack insight accept the help they need. For those of us who wanted to see his NAMI presentation again, Dr. Amador referred us to a link for the same talk he gave earlier in the year in Denmark.
A particular highlight of his talk is Amador’s role-play with an audience member dramatizing the effects of anosogosia. In a realistic dialogue to emphasize the alienation wrought by anosognoisa, Amador effectively challenges a married female psychiatrist in the audience that she is indeed not married and not a psychiatrist, underscoring the dual perspective that one person’s reality is another person’s delusion. As part of the roleplay, Dr. Amador remarks to his audience volunteer, “You’re not the person you think you are!” This particular video passage begins at Minute 40:00 and continues until Minute 48:51.
Amador’s 75 minute talk before Scandinavian psychiatrists can be extremely helpful to family members to understanding better their loved one’s circumstances and more effectively to partner in their loved one’s recovery.
See Dr. Amador’s talk here. [Note: The recorded video is not yet compatible with Windows 7. If you find the video unable to start, adjust your browser to “Compatibility View”.]
This 2011 video from the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson explores the lives of three people living with schizophrenia, a chronic brain disorder that can be severe and disabling and often is misunderstood and stigmatized. Developed specifically for people living with schizophrenia and those who care about them, this documentary reveals their daily struggles, personal insights about the illness, and paths the mental health recovery process. PsychOdyssey recommends the documentary to family members in the maelstrom–and to all in society who wish to understand better what such families uniquely experience.
Take These Broken Wings, a feature-length documentary film by director and psychotherapist Daniel Mackler, shows that people can recover fully from schizophrenia without psychiatric medication. According to most of the mental health field, and of course the pharmaceutical industry, this is not possible. How little they know – or want to know! The film centers on the lives of two women who both recovered from severe schizophrenia. The film traces the roots of their schizophrenia to childhood trauma and details their successful psychotherapy with gifted clinicians.
Through video diaries, Bud Clayman of Philadelphia reveals eye-opening glimpses of his inner world, including OC87, an altered state of mind named by Bud and his therapist. “My mind becomes filled with intrusive thoughts that over-analyze every action and idea,” he says. “As my awareness becomes dominated by themes of control and mental commands, OC87 causes me to lose touch with not only my feelings, but also social connection.” It also gets in the way of ordinary living: riding a bus, getting in an elevator, unclogging a drain. As a long standing struggle, OC87 is embedded in Bud’s pent-up confrontation of a former mentor—a moment that‘s been brewing for thirty years. See a trailer for the film here.
“If families are forced to navigate the maelstrom of mental illness, NAMI’s Family to Family must be their sexton. Family to Family was the single most effective, important thing I did to help my loved one, not to mention myself and the rest of my family! It was a god-send.”
–Tom Pyle, PsychOdyssey Founder, family member, Family to Family facilitator
The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program Video presents the details and impact of NAMI’s free, 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses. The course is taught by trained family members. All instruction and course materials are free to class participants. Over 115,000 family members have graduated from this national program. Watch the video here.
One of America’s leading psychiatrists and experts on schizophrenia, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey is the author of The Insanity Offense, addresses 100 doctors at San Francisco General Hospital about what he sees as the dire, declining, and morally unacceptable conditions for the severely mentally ill who are homeless and untreated in the State of California. The talk covers most of the themes about which Torrey, a staunch if controversial advocate for compulsory treatment for certain individuals with schizophrenia, writes in his book.
(Note: For a collection of resources about compulsory treatment, visit PsychOdyssey Academy’s PsychOdyssey 350: Compulsory Treatment, a virtual course which includes PsychOdyssey’s white paper on outpatient commitment which also cites Torrey’s book. Ed.)
MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness is a multi-platform media project that explores severe mental illness in America. The centerpiece of the project is a television program which aired on PBS stations in October 2009. This video component (60 minutes) is part of a national initiative that includes extensive web content with tools for civic engagement, active social media on Facebook and Twitter, and an ambitious strategy to engage citizens, professionals in many fields, and policy makers at all levels of government. The goal is to advance consensus about how to improve the kinds of support and treatment available for people with mental illness. Click to the general website here.
The Treatment Advocacy Center, founded by compulsory treatment advocate Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, has released a heartbreaking yet hopeful video about the consequences of anosognosia and a means by which to handle the condition.
SANE Australia is a national charity working for a better life for people affected by mental illness. SANE DVD Kits feature people living with a mental illness and their families speaking frankly and movingly about their experience. Describing symptoms, treatments and what people can do to help themselves, the DVDs are invaluable in education, the workplace and for anyone wanting to understand what it means to live with an illness such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia. Click here to here watch highlights of the SANE Australia DVDs.
Nathaniel Ayers is a Julliard trained celloist who became afflicted by schizophrenia and wound up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Living in a highway underpass, fiddling on a broken violin with only two strings, Ayers was discovered by local newspaper reporter Steve Lopez. Lopez eventually wrote a book about his relationship with Ayers, called The Soloist, which became the basis for the major motion picture of the same name. Morley Safer interviews Ayers and Lopez.
People Say I’m Crazy is “the only film about schizophrenia ever made by someone with schizophrenia.” Starring and directed by artist John Cadigan, mental illness is viewed from the inside out as the audience becomes witness to a first-hand account of the symptoms of schizophrenia and the disease’s effect on one man and his family. People Say I’m Crazy has been hailed as a unique, powerful, and ultimately optimistic statement on coping with schizophrenia, challenging stereotypes and humanizing an often misunderstood illness. Originally aired on HBO, People Say I’m Crazy is available on DVD. (Read the PsychOdyssey review of this film here.)
Dr. Delaney Ruston debuted her new film about schizophrenia at the NAMI National Convention in Washington, DC in July 2010. To be aired on National Public Television in Fall 2010, Unlisted is the story of Ruston’s relationship with her schizophrenic father, Richard. “After many years of shame, frustration and fear she decided to hide from her father and keep her phone number and address unlisted. But now, 10 years later, Richard is more stable on a newer medicine and Delaney, given her experiences as a doctor and a mother, decides to reconnect with her father.”
The Treatment Advocacy Center facilitated a standing-room-only workshop at the NAMI National Convention, July 2010, called “Confronting Anosognosia: How to Help Those Who Don’t Know They’re Sick”. (Anosognia is the technical term for lack of insight into one’s illness.) The panel featured Xavier Amador, MD, author of I Am Not Sick I Don’t Need Help!, filmmaker Delaney Ruston, MD, and Jonathan Stanley, Treatment Advocacy Center board member and former staffer. The moderator is Jim Pavle, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center.
Psychiatrist Dan Fisher, himself diagnosed with schizophrenia, talks about the possibilities of recovery for all with psychiatric disabilities. The key is hope. The most important element in an individual’s recovery, he observes, is having someone who believes in the individual’s recovery, even when the individual himself at a time may not. Traditional services, Fisher claims, increase rather than decrease risks. They are fear-based systems that may build compliance, but not alliance. Fisher is the Executive Director of the National Empowerment Center based in Lawrence, MA.
Consumer, “psych survivor”, and recovery pioneer Pat Deegan, Ph.D., describes the challenges and possibilities of her own recovery with schizophrenia, including her nine hospitalizations and the blessings she has found in her struggle.
On April 15-16, 2009, the National Research and Training Center at University of Illinois Chicago brought together individuals in mental health recovery, service providers and administrators, researchers and educators, family members, advocates, and policy analysts for an invitational State of the Science Summit in downtown Chicago. Presentations at the Summit focused on advancing self-determination in an era of economic uncertainty coupled with the promises and pitfalls of the President’s 2009 Stimulus Bill. The four summit themes were:
- Person-Directed Recovery
- Consumer-Operated Services and Peer Support
- Employment and Economic Security
- Transparency and Accountability in Mental Health Financing