After the CureTalk Mental Health Panel last week I received an email from a woman at Genentech in New York. She inquired if I might be interested in hosting a Q&A with an expert on schizophrenia who is also familiar with Genentech’s research. The Genentech representative stated that in her experience, “the media/public focus is on the ‘positive’ symptoms of schizophrenia [and other mental illnesses including bipolar] such as the hallucinations and the delusions, and tends to exclude the ‘negative’ symptoms such as low motivation and withdrawal.”
I believe this is true for the anti-psychotics on the market today. They are used to treat what are known as the “positive symptoms” of schizophrenia:
- Delusions – strongly held false beliefs such as:
- paranoid delusions
- delusions of grandeur – thinking you are famous
- delusions of reference – thinking that characters on a TV show are talking to you
- Hallucinations – relate to the 5 senses (can be auditory, tactile, visual, olfactory, or gustatory):
- hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and/or sensing (feeling/touch) sounds or things that no one else does
The “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia include important abilities that are lacking in those people suffering from the illness, and which make social interaction and living a fulfilling life (with work, family, friends) more difficult:
- low energy
- low motivation
- limited facial expressions, limited physical movements
- difficulty speaking or an inability to speak
- inappropriate social skills
- inability to make friends, social isolation
I’m not sure what psychiatrists can prescribe (if anything) for schizophrenia’s negative symptoms. I know that much of these symptoms can be improved with training, practice and a consistent, conscious effort on the part of the individual. I have been working on improving my own abilities (or lack of) in these areas for a couple of years now – mostly due to my husband’s constant encouragement. Low energy can also be physical, so I took steps to try and increase my energy level during the day. I added wheat germ to my breakfast cereal or oatmeal, I started eating lighter lunches so I wouldn’t get sluggish in the afternoons, and I slowly but surely started waking up earlier in the mornings. I’ve tried to focus more on our marriage and our future together as well as my writing to be more motivated and finish my memoir manuscript, rather than dwelling on the negative events of the past.
More recently, I’ve begun work on being more conscious and aware of myself and my facial expressions/reactions when I talk to other people. Rather than sitting silently with a blank expression on my face during a conversation, I respond with a nod, smile or verbal response. This doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to make a very conscious effort. I learned how to improve my social skills with my husband’s advice. He tells me to keep the conversation going, don’t respond to a question with a one-word answer, and ask questions. This is great advice, but I never thought of it on my own. I needed someone else to teach me, help me, motivate me, and push me along on the right path. For many people, not only those suffering from mental illness, social skills do not come naturally. They can be learned, however, with education and encouragement.
The Genentech representative mentioned that Genentech’s current research is focusing on these negative symptoms, and I would like to host a Q&A with a psychiatrist to learn more about their research and how it can help people with schizophrenia and those who suffer from similar “negative” symptoms. If you or anyone you know is interested in participating in the Q&A with a question(s) of your own, please feel free to email me. I will be in touch with more information next week. Thank you!
If you are interested in Genentech’s schizophrenia clinical trial program, please visit www.searchlyteschizophrenia.