I sat next to the young man as he told his story in Peer to Peer. Honestly, he scared me. I was new to the loony world. I was getting less scared of people like me (and through them, eventually less scared of me). But I was still scared of people with schizophrenia. And this one, especially. The others had a grip. My young man had missed a session or two, not yet stable, like, able to tolerate a large room with twenty people stretched around big tables.
He whispered. They asked him to speak up, but the longer he talked, stretching the three-minute limit to ten or fifteen, the softer his voice got. I strained to hear him. I was the only person in the room who could. The story rambled, hitchhiking around obstacles and through obscure events. If he hadn't whispered, if I hadn't strained so hard to hear the words, I would have missed it. I would have missed him.
That was my introduction to the inner world of schizophrenia. My life is richer for it. Yours could be, too.
Caveat -- Mental Illness is Real
Okay, let me be clear. I believe in mental illness. I believe it is real, that its suffering is real. Boy, do I believe that. I believe psychiatry can ease some of the suffering, and that it should.
The experience of hearing voices causes pain, and I wish for my friends who hear them that they be relieved of their pain.
Now lots of people hear voices. Lots of religious people hear God talk to them. Not many admit it. But I will. I have. The words are rare, short and to the point -- though in my experience, often not the point that I raised. They invariably introduce innovation, force me to turn, which, upon reflection, is a good thing, though not what I had in mind. For most people, hearing the voice of God comforts, challenges, strengthens. We leave the encounter in a better place.
No, there is no sacred revelation in the voices of schizophrenia. They are scary. They scare the people who live with them. They scare the people who live with the people who live with them. Antipyschotics are supposed to get rid of the voices. Would that they did.
And here begins the dance. But first --
NAMI's Fact Sheets are a good starting point to learn about various mental disorders. The Fact Sheet on Schizophrenia describes positive, negative and cognitive symptoms.
- Positive Symptoms, or psychotic symptoms, include delusions and hallucinations because the patient has lost touch with reality in certain important ways. Positive refers to having overt symptoms that should not be there...
- Negative Symptoms include emotional flatness or lack of expression, an inability to start and follow through with activities, speech that is brief and devoid of content, and a lack of pleasure or interest in life. Negative does not refer to the person's attitude but to a lack of certain characteristics that should be there.
- Cognitive Symptoms pertain to thinking processes. For example, people may have difficulty with prioritizing tasks, certain kinds of memory functions, and organizing their thoughts...
What Causes The Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Gee, what a good question!
But not long gone.
Much of mental health research has been generated by the accidental discovery that some medication, given for some other ailment, turned out to relieve symptoms of mental illness for those persons who had the other ailment but also had a mental illness of some sort, as well. Then the scientists got to work trying to explain what that particular medication does, and by extension, what is wrong inside the brains of people who benefit from taking it.
Thus was developed the Dopamine Hypothesis, when people who took meds that messed with their dopamine found they experienced a decrease in psychotic symptoms. It is like the Serotonin Hypothesis of Major Depression, except the serotonin hypothesis is not enough serotonin, and the Dopamine Hypothesis is too much dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It transmits messages from one neuron to another. It has several roles in the brain:
- It modulates brain activity;
- It controls voluntary movement;
- It directs attention and learning;
- It stimulates metabolism;
- It generates motivation.
This is a graphic of two neurons, the sending neuron A and the receiving neuron B. #4 is the synapse (gap) between them. The little dots in the synapse represent the dopamine, which has been released from neuron A and is being received by neuron B through the receptors, #5
Reduce the dopamine, or turn off the receptors, or ratchet back the sensitivity, you reduce the positive symptoms.
Join NAMI to read the interview with Dr. Nancy Andreason in the Winter 2013 issue of Advocate for DSM history on schizophrenia. It wasn't until DSM IV that the other symptoms, the negative and cognitive ones were even recognized.
Except by the people who hear the voices.
With that we have circled back to the dance, in time for the next installment of My Friends With Voices.
Peer to Peer logo from NAMI.org
photo of Chatanika River by Dennis Cowals for the EPA and in the public doman
photo of the Earth by NASA and in the public domain
graphic of synapse by Mouagip and used under the Creative Commons license
photo of burning house by Michael Maggs and used under the Creative Commons license