Fashion / Psychiatry

Schizophrenic Connection

{Schizophrenic.NYC tank top}

As a psychiatrist, I treat nearly all mental health diagnoses, but among the patients that have been most memorable and have broken the most stereotypes in my mind are those diagnosed with schizophrenia.  As an intern and resident physician, I allotted more time to talk with my patients with schizophrenia because they were generally the ones who spoke the least and typically given the least amount of time to interview during patient rounds on the inpatient psychiatric wards.  I recall the shock on several staff members’ faces during the staff morning meetings when I’d discuss my schizophrenic patients, for I had a tendency to present unexpected, personal info such as a patient’s favorite food, previous hobbies, where they grew up, and more specifics regarding their background (brief patient case presentations typically consisted of logistical info pertaining to timeline of their involuntary holds, compliance with medications, reports of agitated behaviors/incidents, participation in group meetings, etc).  They are human beings with stories of struggle trying to cope with their illness, and when stable, have the potential to live normal lives.

Unfortunately, many people diagnosed with schizophrenia lack support and access to the care they need, and many end up living homeless on the streets.  The 2012 U.S. national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that an estimated 46% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Among the most vulnerable are those living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Given those alarming statistics, I was ecstatic to discover Schizophrenic.NYC, a clothing line whose founder, Michelle, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22.  Fueled by their vision to see less mentally ill people living on the streets of NYC, their goal is to donate and support organizations that support the struggle of the mentally ill homeless population.  I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with Michelle and get more info about Schizophrenic.NYC and her thoughts on living with mental illness:

  1.  Being diagnosed with schizophrenia, what do you believe is the most common misconception of people who have schizophrenia?

I would have to say that the most common misconception about schizophrenia is that people believe that schizophrenic people cannot live normal lives. Most people’s experience with schizophrenics are the homeless people on the streets who are yelling, screaming, or just plain talking to themselves. It’s hard to understand that there are people living with this illness who live normal lives and can thrive in society (with medication of course). The problem is that these functioning schizophrenic people keep their illness a secret.  If everyone would share their story it would make people more aware that mental illness is extremely common and can afflict anyone. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean that you’re “crazy.”

2.  Research shows that early identification and assertive intervention of a person’s 1st psychotic episode can improve longterm outcomes.  What advice would you give to the youth who might be struggling with early symptoms of schizophrenia, but are too afraid or unsure how to navigate ways to seek help?

It is very hard for a youth with schizophrenia to get help.  People with schizophrenia often believe that the people around them are trying to hurt them and are plotting against them.  Early identification can only happen if the person has the self-reflection to understand that they are having a problem.  Teens need to learn in school about the signs and symptoms so they can understand if they are having a problem.  I would advise anyone who thinks they are having symptoms of mental illness to try to talk to someone they trust.  Admitting that they see a problem is just the first step…and it’s the hardest one of all.

3.  What organizations/people/resources have been most integral in your ability to manage your symptoms?

I am lucky enough to have a great support system.  I have my friends, family and doctor that I rely on.  My best friends, who are my former roommates, know all of my struggles and without them I would have never made it through college. My family has always supported me and has never treated me differently.  My doctor is a great person to talk to and of course provides me with the medication I need to control my illness.

4.  How has Schizophrenic.NYC impacted the mental illness community thus far?

Schizophrenic.NYC is growing everyday.  I love to tell people about my mission to help the mentally ill homeless by donating to organizations in NYC that help them.  I am trying to start a movement and people like that idea.  It’s all about raising awareness.  The more people who are aware the faster changes can be made.

5.  What can we expect from Schizophrenic.NYC in the future?

I wish I knew the answer to that question!  Who knows what the future will bring.  As of right now, we are getting more shirts, tanks and accessories made.  We will continue to spread our mission and work to make a difference.  Stay tuned!

{Rorschach inkblot test design}

Photo credit: Alex M (@fitgodzilla) and Schizophrenic.NYC (middle photo)

13 thoughts on “Schizophrenic Connection

  1. Bravo. I enjoyed where you placed the ink blot test. I think that if a person had to interpret the “blot” they would do so with a smile on their faces for sure. An enjoyable article. Sigmund would puff on his cirgar and state “sometimes an ink blot is more than an ink blot.”Keep up the great work Enjoy the day.

  2. I just discovered your site this morning through your Like on my blog. I am glad. This was a great post. Since April I have either been an in-patient or day clinic patient on a psych station that specifically treats schizophrenia. I don’t have schizophrenia, but their therapy techniques fit well to what I need to handle my depression. In the beginning I was afraid because of the terrible stereotypes, but I quickly learned that my fellow patients can be incredibly peaceful, kind and caring of each other as we get through our treatments. I feel ashamed for how I thought in the beginning. My understanding has totally changed. Thank you for writing such a wonderful post.

    • With so many types of treatments out there, it’s great to hear that you know of the type of therapy that works best for you to overcome your depression. It’s a process to overcome stereotypes and the important point is that you were open to get to know those with schizophrenia whom you were in treatment with, whereas so many people are so fixed in their stereotypes that they don’t give people a chance. I identify with you because I am also humbled by the moments where I realize that my initial perspectives of individuals were wrong. Thank u for commenting and sharing your story 🙂

  3. Pingback: How A Schizophrenic Woman From NYC Is Breaking Stigma About Mental Illness | Freud & Fashion

  4. Pingback: How A Determined Schizophrenic Woman From NYC Is Breaking Stigma About Mental Illness - Schizophrenic.NYC Mental Health Clothing Line

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