A friend told me the following story about her daughter.
“Your daughter has schizophrenia,” the doctor said.
“Oh no! Anything but that,” she cried out. “Couldn’t she have contracted something else, like … like … a heart problem, or leukemia or ? “ Her voice disappeared, choking on the words.
“But heart disease and leukemia can be fatal. Schizophrenia is far more treatable,” was the doctor’s response.
My friend looked at him sadly, then down at the floor and whispered; “I would still prefer my daughter to have been diagnosed with leukemia.”
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is devastating for most families and patients alike. I know. I have been there. Like my friend, we believed that there was no hope. Felt as though we’d received a death sentence, imagined our beloved child’s descent into psychosis and violence, maybe; as well as the accompanying stigma.
“Even though this must be frightening for you, a specific diagnosis is at least one step closer to getting treatment. The earlier this condition is treated, the better the chance of getting it under control.”
Now, I know that schizophrenia rarely appears unexpectedly. There is always a gradual decline in functioning with warning signs over a period of one to three years which is the time for intervention. But we knew nothing about the illness, had not come across it. We’d come across measles, mumps and chicken pox and a myriad of other children diseases, but nobody had ever whispered the word mental illness. I’d heard adults in the house talking about one person who was in a psychiatric hospital which in those days they referred to as a mental hospital. But any questions we had asked, went unanswered.
Our son started off by being suspicious, had weird thoughts, and seemed to experience changes in what he saw, heard, tasted and smelt … things that the rest of us did not experience. He had difficulty getting to the point while explaining something, and his reasoning skills were illogical. He had unrealistic ideas of his abilities and capabilities.
My friend told me later that she was far too shocked to ask questions, but at a later stage, we drew up a list of all the things she needed to and should ask her daughter’s doctor.
- What does the medication do for her?
- How often will she have to take it?
- When will she be discharged from the hospital?
- How often should the family visit her?
- Will she be seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
- What therapy is available? (She has taken part in some art therapy sessions.)
- Can she come home for weekends?