Thursday, July 26, 2012

Demystifying Schizophrenia

By Walker B. Shapiro, Medical Student
Reviewed by Claudia L. Reardon, M.D.

You have probably heard of schizophrenia - in newspapers, books, movies, and TV shows; you or somebody you know may be affected with this mental illness. Nonetheless, confusion about schizophrenia is common. This post provides some basic facts about schizophrenia, including common symptoms and available treatments. Schizophrenia is a chronic, treatable brain disease that affects an individual’s thought patterns, behavior, and perceptions of reality.

Some general facts about schizophrenia:
Affects more than 1% of the population with similar rates around the world
Affects men and women with similar frequency
Symptoms usually start between ages 16-30
Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent

The symptoms of schizophrenia vary greatly between individuals. They can also change and get better or worse over time. Some of the most common symptoms are listed below:
  • Hallucinations – hearing voices is common
  • Delusions – fixed belief in something untrue or impossible
  • Paranoia – unhealthy or unfounded suspicion
  • Disorganized thoughts – may go on tangents or not make sense when speaking
  • Loss of interest or motivation – may not enjoy daily activities or social interaction
Schizophrenia is a serious chronic disease, but treatment is available to help people get back to thinking clearly and leading full lives. The most important treatment elements include:
  • Medications (‘antipsychotics’) – help restore and maintain normal, healthy thought patterns
  • Therapy and rehabilitation – help cope with stress and return to work, school, independent living, and social interaction
If you are concerned that somebody you know might be suffering from schizophrenia, encourage them to see a doctor for evaluation.
Find more facts on schizophrenia at

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tips for Talking to Children about Aurora Shooting

By David Fassler, M.D.

Parents and caretakers are faced with the challenge of discussing the recent tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado with children. Although these may be difficult conversations, they are also important. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to talk with children about such traumatic events. However, here are some suggestions that may be helpful:

  • Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions. At the same time, it's best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they're ready. 
  • Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually know, or eventually find out, if you're “making things up.” It may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future.
  • Use words and concepts children can understand. Gear your explanations to the child's age, language, and developmental level.
  • Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times. Some information may be hard for them to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a child to ask for reassurance.
  • Acknowledge and validate the child's thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate. 
  • Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about their own safety or the safety of friends when going to the movies or other public areas.
  • Let children know that lots of people are helping the families affected by the recent shooting. 
  • Children learn from watching their parents. They are very interested in how you respond to local and national events. They also learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.
  • Don't let children watch too much television / news coverage with frightening images. The repetition of such scenes can be disturbing and confusing. 
  • Children who have experienced trauma or losses in the past are particularly vulnerable to prolonged or intense reactions to news or images of violent incidents. These children may need extra support and attention.
  • Children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about safety should be evaluated by a trained and qualified mental health professional. Other signs that a child may need additional help include ongoing sleep disturbances; intrusive thoughts or worries; recurring fears about death, leaving parents, or going out to public areas. If these behaviors persist, ask your child's pediatrician, family physician, or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.
  • Although parents may follow the news with close scrutiny, most children just want to be children. They may not want to think about or discuss violent events.  They'd rather play ball, climb trees, or ride bikes.
A senseless, violent crime is not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, some young children may feel frightened or confused. As parents and caring adults, we can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent, and supportive manner.

Fortunately, most children -- even those exposed to trauma -- are quite resilient. However, by creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help them cope with stressful events and experiences and reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulties.

David Fassler, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Burlington, Vermont.  He is also a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.