Last Thursday, my wife and I attended a viewing of Dr. Delaney Ruston’s documentary film Unlisted followed by a panel discussion. The film and panel discussion focused primarily on schizophrenia, but individuals with bipolar disorder and their families face similar struggles.
I was very impressed by the keynote speaker, Dr. Alan Breier, MD, who passionately and compassionately described the struggles of people living with schizophrenia. He called schizophrenia the “quintessential human experience,” because it affects the two qualities most responsible for making a person feel human:
- The ability to work
- The ability to love
According to Dr. Breier, the cruelest part of schizophrenia is the social isolation it causes. He serves as Professor of Psychiatry, Chief, Psychotic Disorders Program at the Prevention and Recovery Center for Early Psychosis (PARC) at Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis, IN. PARC focuses on early intervention and recognizes the importance of maintaining strong relationships and educating both patients and their families.
What struck me most about the film is how devastating mental illness can be to families and how important it is to include family education and therapy as an integral part of the treatment protocol. I rarely see that happen. Instead, treatment often seems to focus solely on the person with mental illness, leaving other family members to struggle on their own. Often the illness itself or the family member’s lack of knowledge, skills, and resources for dealing with their new reality drives a wedge between the well and ill family members.
Family supports fall away, and then, at best, the system tries to replace those supports with public services, many of which have been stripped away. The end result is that far too many people with serious mental illness are becoming socially isolated, losing their ability to work and love, and ultimately ending up in jail or taking their own lives. Early intervention that includes family seems to hold the most hope.
One of the panel members, Suzanne Clifford, BS, MBA, Community Activist, said that she suggests to doctors that they write a prescription for NAMI’s Family-to-Family course — that the doctor actually write out a prescription for Family-to-Family and hand it to a family member. That sounded like a good start.
Another interesting topic that came up during the panel discussion related to funding for medication research. Suzanne Clifford stated that she expected to see very few new psychotropic medications in the near future. She said that with so many generic medications already approved as first-line treatments, insurance companies were unlikely to approve coverage for newer medications, and pharmaceutical companies had little profit motive to invest in research.
According to Clifford, we are going to need a new approach to funding research, perhaps something like venture philanthropy — a non-profit version of venture capitalism.