Monday, November 16, 2009

Family-to-Family Week 6

Note: One of our current Family-to-family participants is writing a weekly series about her experience with NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania's 12-week education class. This is her sixth post.

Medications can be a very frustrating aspect of treatment for mental illness, both for the consumer and caregivers. What works well for one person with depression, may not work at all for another; or the medications that keep a person functional during the day, may also keep them up all night. Often one medication's side effects must be treated with another medication.

Many people in our Family-to-Family group had experienced the frustration of having their loved one's diagnosis -- and subsequently their medication -- changed time and time again, leaving them to wonder if the professionals they trusted to give them answers were doing anything more than guessing.
It's hard to ask a doctor about these seeming inconsistencies, especially as they sometimes take affront to any suggestion that their professional opinion is being questioned. So it was extremely refreshing and enlightening to have a physician come to our class and talk openly about the the problems of diagnosis, pharmaceutical treatments, and side effects; and, to frankly address how mainstream medicine creates a mirage of seemingly inviolate truths when, in fact, science is challenging and changing what we know about mental illness every day.

One of the most impactful revelations, to me, was the "Bible" of mental illness, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in its next revision (version 4 is used currently) will be more focused on categorical diagnoses as opposed to the dimensional mechanisms that are currently employed. This change will make diagnosis more fluid, with considerations for co-occurring disorders and the overlap between diagnoses of many symptoms. Diagnosis, and treatment plans, will then target symptoms rather than attempt to force all the varied and numerous expressions of mental illness neatly into blanket categories.

Next Week, we'll learn about empathy -- a gift we can all give and, gratefully, use.

For more information, visit the Family-to-Family section of NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania's website.