As I read the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) recent research, I sighed, “It’s about time.” It’s about time to look at mental illness from a recovery standpoint. It’s about time to recognize that treatment needs to begin with the first symptom episodes. It’s about time . . . family members seemed to intuitively know this.
NIMH’s research project Recovery after an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) is exploring the effectiveness of of early and aggressive treatment. RAISE examines an aggressive approach to early treatment at the first onset of symptoms. The researchers are looking at two different approaches that have the same goal: To lessen long-term lose of functional abilities. They are also seeking to disseminate the learned information quickly into community settings to make a transition from research to practice. (A summary of RAISE)
Just what is it that family members seemed to know that researchers are just learning?
First, early diagnosis and early treatment. It is still standard practice not to diagnosis any mental illness in early teens, even though symptoms may be pronounced and clear. For some mental illness, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, it is recommended not to give a diagnosis to a teen unless the symptoms have been present for a year or more.
In our family’s situation, by the time a diagnosis was given, the destruction caused by the mental illness had set in. Our son had also turned 18, and we were prevented by law from making appointments for him. He was too ill to decide for himself, but intervention wasn’t an option. How often we have said, “If we’d only known sooner.”
The reasoning is to not “stigmatize” a young person with a mental illness diagnosis. Too often the person is stigmatized by anti-social behavior and criminal record before a diagnosis is given and treatment started. Early intervention can help prevent destructive behaviors later on.
Second, families have known that recovery is possible. Sometimes that recovery requires more than a handful of pills and a once-a-month, 30-minute appointment. Recovery is person oriented; not method oriented. Recovery occur more often when it begins early and aggressively. The goal of getting this researched model into the community quickly will help get boots on the ground toward real recovery that leads to independent living.
Third, research needs to focus on a recovery model. Yes, it’s important to know why the brain operates the way it does. Yes, it’s important to know what medications may help. But, more needs to be done to promote recovery, not maintenance, as the goal for those suffering with mental illness. We family members want our loved ones well, not just medicated.