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The son who vanished …

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

For months, Jesse's parents hoped it was just 'a rough patch.' But by late spring, he was clearly psychotic ...Read the full article

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  1. Michael Sharp from Victoria, Canada writes:

    Early psychosis, if treated, has a good prognosis.
  2. True North from Canada writes: Very courageous!
  3. Glenn F from Winnipeg, Canada writes: I think the family in the OCD section of this feature need to see this video and listen to these parents. This is what intervention and treatment means. Not coddling. Not accepting.
  4. D. B. from Greater Sask., Canada writes: I haven't read the whole article yet, but will try. I don't know if my comment will be relevant or not . . . but mental illness can have the same devastating impact on a family that violent crime, murder and so on can have. That is probably not groundbreaking news. But the impact at the concrete, emotional level is felt afresh in every family that encounters mental illness. How do you deal with it? Every family is different. I have heard stories about family members simply disowning the afflicted family member.
  5. D. B. from Greater Sask., Canada writes: I am very happy for Jesse and his family, who didn't abandon him at all! I wish them all the best.
  6. Tara Lene from Canada writes: Why do we always equate mental health problems with violent crime and murder? Mental health is often associated with these social issues, but they are in most cases unrelated. Having a mental health problem does not automatically make someone a criminal. However, it is true that people with mental illness do commit crimes, and frustratingly, the media overreports and sensationalizes incidences.

    The fact is that problems of mental heath are actually medical issues. So it would be more apt to analogize mental health problems with other serious health problems such as cancer, diabetes - and my favorite - sexual health.

    Personally, I think that analogizing mental health problems with sexual health makes sense.

    Our school makes great attempts to educate our children about preventing sexually transmitted infections, about preventing pregnancies, and about protecting themselves from what they do not want or invite.

    Canada's sexual health education programs are extremely successful. Birth rates among teenage mothers are down, and abortion numbers are down.

    If our schools would take the same approach to education of issues of mental health; by providing language, by teaching about common misconceptions, by providing a platform for open, honest, and relatively impartial discussion; society at large would benefit.

    First, young people who are most vulnerable to an event would now have the language to describe the events that are happening to them, and would likely have more understanding of what is happening to them. They may be more likely to go to a doctor earlier, which would prevent a grand interruption in their life. And best of all, issues of mental health would be recontextualized, and hopefully, normalized, thus passively combating discrimination and social injustice.
  7. Diane Froggatt from Toronto, Canada writes: It was good to see Jesse Bigelow's story in print and to get his and his parents' feelings and experiences about his journey through schizophrenia. He is like so many more who have suffered through similar frightening and bewildering experiences. I hope that readers realize that the majority of people who experience schizophrenia are like Jesse, decent, life-loving people, and the majority of their families are loving and caring families. The trouble is that even our generally good health care system is short on general knowledge and common sense about people with these type of psychotic disorders. Even people wanting treatment can be turned away from Emergency Rooms because of lack of beds or simply because they are "not unwell enough" to be admitted - which shows how uninformed even mental health professionals can be when it comes to mental illness. On the front page of the Globe in the statistics you describe people who "suffer a mental illness"; "experience major depression"; "will be hit with anxiety disorders"; "get bipolar disorder"; but for schizophrenia do you say "people suffering from, or experiencing schizophrenia? No, you say "10 in 1,000 are schizophrenics. Years ago the family support and advocacy organizations in Canada changed their name to Schizophrenia Societies to avoid this word which has such unpleasant connotations. It was a minor slipup in an otherwise excellent beginning to the series. I look forward to more information and hope that this positive approach to MI will have a beneficial effect on society in general and the mental health field and on government departments responsible for mental health. Congratulations. DF
  8. Cousin Voltaire from Canada writes: Thank you, Jesse, Susan and Jay. It's a beautiful day here where I live, yet here I am in front of my computer, listening to your stories. An enriching experience, to say the least.
  9. D. B. from Greater Sask., Canada writes: I have to reply respectfully and quickly to Tara! I was in no way equating mental illness with violent crime and murder.
  10. Lynn Harding from Canada writes: It is great to hear that Jesse is doing so well and I am delighted for the entire family. I am thankful that you have come through this with such a positive attitude and outlook. My love to you all. Lynn
  11. Lynn-Marie Ramjass from Ajax, Canada writes: I would like to add that there are coalitions like TAMI (Talking About Mental Illness) through the CMHA that go into high schools and discuss mental illness with our youths. Courageous individuals who like Jesse have various forms of mental illness and who go forth and share their private conscious nightmares with others and the progress in their recoveries in person. There are services such as COPE Mental Health Programs in various communities here in Pickering, Whitby, Uxbridge and other areas in the Durham Region where volunteers help one another to do just that. Those afflicted with mental illness who struggle to get the help they need are not often aware of these and other agencies available to help them.
    Jesse and his family and all those willing to share their stories are beacons of hope for so many millions of persons suffering silently and alone. They should be commended for their courage and for not giving up. The day any member of my family comes out of the shadows and publicly discusses my own personal plight with bipolar with me and the media in a public forum, will be a very good day, indeed.
  12. Jung Frau from Switzerland writes: My son also was in a rock band in high school, portentously named "Crisis". He also became psychotic at 19 and spent three months in hospital, then a further two months in hospital within a year of his first hospitalization. Everything I read about Jesse, I could say about my son. My son was also on clozapine for three years. Somehow, I seemed to be the only person throughout that time who was interested in the word "cure". Doctors think you are delusional if that word creeps into your vocabulary. I finally decided that if my son ever hoped to live a "normal life", the medications were keeping him a patient and had to go. It took one year to withdraw from a measly 25 mg of clozapine, and a slightly lesser amount of time to get off Solian. No one should ever think, however, that medications are the whole problem and getting off them will fix things. The medications are only putting a clumsy bandage on an overwhelming crisis of living. Before withdrawing from the medications he (and me in some cases) underwent Family Constellation Therapy (google Bert Hellinger), an assemblage point shift (google The Assemblage Point Centre), energy medicine in its many forms (visualizations, muscle testing, etc.) with a base of vitamin therapy (Dr Abram Hoffer). Please don't overlook the hearing voices movement (google Intervoice and Dr Marius Romme). In the words of R.D. Laing, “Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.”
  13. Richie Rich from Sar Chasm, Canada writes: The one thing early in the article that caught my eye was that Jesse smoked pot. There have been many studies which have concluded that your chances of contracting schizophrenia are doubled if you smoke pot. So I don't exactly buy the notion that "my kid instantly changed for no reason".

    Now before I'm pounced on by the pro-pots, I declare that I'm for the de-criminalization of marijuana. However, you have to be kidding yourself if you think that marijuana doesn't have some potentially nasty consequences, just like alcohol and tobacco.
  14. Professional30smthg in TO from Canada writes: Well written and compelling story. Schizophrenia is sadly one of those misunderstood and under-treated illnesses in our society. you only have to look as far as the nearest homeless person to see its effects...

    As for the effects of smoking pot, I have a schizophrenic friend who is 10x worse when he smokes pot, and 100x worse when alchohol is added to the mix.
  15. Adeimantus Sophist from Canada writes: This story is very similar to what happened to a dear friend of mine. He is also recovering, but it is a slow process and one fraught with the fear of relapse.

    From my friend's experience, the three evils that would inevitably cause an episode were: marijuana, alcohol, and lack of sleep (lack of sleep usually being caused by the other two...).

    I'm not hugely anti-pot, but I do think there's a link. I don't presume to know if it's a cause-and-effect link, but it is at least a contributing factor.
  16. Susan Bigelow from Toronto, Canada writes: To the best of my knowledge, research substantiates that although street drugs may trigger or exacerbate schizophrenia, they do not cause it.
  17. G Parsons from Fort McMurray, Canada writes: This story is very like the experience my wife and I went through with our son. He too is recovering nicely and getting his life in order. Smoking pot was also a factor in his episode.
  18. Juan Valasquez from Canada writes: I had a buddy who smoked at least a gram of weed a day all through high school. Around 19 or so, he ended up in the Psychiatric ward of Scarborough General. He was delusional, and had broken free from reality. They released him and put him on meds.
    He became a Zombie and drooled on himself.

    Two months later he walked into the path of a GO train.

    I'm not sure what, if anything could have been done, but the transformation from sociable and normal to schizophrenic was rapid and horrifying.
  19. s like from Canada writes: It's quite possible it was related to the drugs (pot) - it could have been the trigger.

    We all smoked pot when we were teens and we all went through this strange paranoid phase. Overtime it just went away for most of us. One friend quit pot altogether - which was a good thing - but I can see now how it could have created a permanent mental disorder with some sensitive individuals.

    Many try and portray pot as somewhat benign but it can very negative consequences for some.
  20. Orion Carrier from Victoria, BC, Canada writes: The story's timing is eerie and fortuitous. A close relative has recently been hospitalized against her will. She has no interest in accepting that she has any mental illness. Although I feel enlightened about mental illness, it has been very, very painful, and the story has really put the whole experience in perspective.

    Incidentally, my relative has never done pot. While marijuana may indeed exacerbate schizophrenia, so may many other things. With respect to people's concerns, I think that the focus on marijuana detracts from the real issue we're talking about here--which is the stigma attached to schizophrenia. In fact, I think it accentuates the stigma.

    That said, if we're going to talk about marijuana, let's talk about household cleaning fluids, herbicides, pesticides, petrochemical fertilizers--we willingly participate in a massive experiment on our population, immersing ourselves in a soup of hundreds of chemicals, and the composite effects of them on us could never be studied. And we think testing each chemical individually on animals renders these chemicals safe. Then, we wonder why mental illness is growing exponentially in our society.

    In the face of this, imho, in addition to exacerbating the stigma, linking schizophrenia with marijuana seems quite simplistic.

    My deep gratitude to the families that took the courageous steps into the public eye, to offer profound support to the many, many people who have been touched by this condition.
  21. Jung Frau from Switzerland writes: To the best of my knowledge, research substantiates that although street drugs may trigger or exacerbate schizophrenia, they do not cause it.

    Susan, At the same time it is also known that if recreational drugs are the cause of the problem, the person will recover quicker than for someone for whom the problem goes deeper. In my son's case, he did not smoke pot. I did a lot of research and realized that he was predestined from conception to have a trigger in his teen years that would tip him into a full blown episode. The good news is that, even if someone is born with the tendency, you can still achieve full recovery. What was your son like around the age of 10? Was he into fantasy games? Did he ever have a paranormal experience? I only found this out from my son years later. He never told me about certain things that he found frightening and abnormal. He seemed like a normal kid, but he had some extraordinary things that he kept hidden. An intense fantasy life was one of them.
  22. Bert Russell Paradox, BC from Canada writes:
    A story repeated thousands and thousands of times - just change the name and address. The family caregivers often need learned skills to survive and support a family member.
    There is hope with support and a system, not Political lip service.
  23. m k from Toronto, Canada writes: This story is almost exactly what happened to my brother. It has now been 11 years since my brother has been diagnosed and, as a family, we still struggle today with the disease. The best advice I can give to people who have to live with someone that has schizophrenia is: accept that your loved one is sick, realize that this person may be sick forever, educate yourself on the disease, do not try to reason with the person during an episode of delirium (it's called delirium for a reason), provide support to the best of your availability, and do not be ashamed to talk openly about it. There is nothing to be ashamed about. In our experience, meds have proven essential to my brother's slow recovery process.
  24. Bridget Hough from Canada writes: Your web-visitors might be interested to know that the clips of Jesse and family are from a documentary produced by the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. Schizophrenia Societies in all the provinces provide support and education for families who are enduring what the Bigelows went through. I advise those families who have written about the stress and distress of their situation to contact their local Schizophrenia Society. They will get help, and may meet other families like the Bigelows who are willing to share their stories.
    Congratulations Jesse, Susan and Jay!
  25. Mary Ann Varkaris from Canada writes: I've known a number people who suffer from schizophrenia. Several of them have shown an obsession with pot, and this obsession seemed to get worse at times when their symptoms were also worsening. One friend used to write dozens of essays about the legalization of mj that spouted the same points over and over and over ad nauseum, as though the drug that seemed to be making him worse was the one thing he was determined to have more of. This doesn't mean the use of marijuana causes mental illness, but there is definitely a correlation. Ditto alcohol.
  26. M A from Toronto, Canada writes: Congratulations to Jesse, Susan and Jay. Your story gives me hope that things will get better.
  27. J. King from Toronto, Canada writes: As someone who suffers from depression and is on medication, Jesse and his family's story is fascinating - and thankfully hope filled. With my own illness, admitting it was the biggest stumbling block, taking meds the next - thoughts of being a failure for needing them and somewhat absurdly not manly in needing them were huge issues for me yet, I was becoming someone I was afraid to be. That said, I cannot imagine having to go through Jesse's experience and especially being in your head and feeling alone in doing so. Kudos to him and his family for sticking by one another and freely telling their story.
  28. Marianne N from Oakville, Canada writes: This is a very detailed and candid depiction of mental illness in a 'typical' Canadian family. My family has experienced similar things and I think it is wonderful that this family has shared their experiences and shed light on a significantly misunderstood illness. I wish them lots of happiness and luck in the future. More should be said and done about this illness, which is often much more debilitating than several of the other better-funding illnesses. I hope we will see more support for people with mental illness in the future.
  29. Tricia Manzano from Winnipeg, Canada writes: It is so commendable the he did not give up on himself, he is able to work that is a great achievment.

    It is also great that even though he didn't think there was anything wrong , he didn't hold a grudge with his parents and reconized that they love him.
  30. Tracy Bracy from Toronto, Canada writes: Paranoia in the mentally ill but sane comes from the world classifying everyone as sick or not sick. If you live in the real world you have to agree and live by all the social rules, laws etc... This is why normal people with mental illness go crazy. They have to laugh at themselves, make fun of themselves, be disgusted in themselves and hurt themselves to get along in real world. A lot of people who have been diagnosed should never never allow themselves to be treated or taken to hospital. When they actually like themselves or try to take care of themselves, they have to withdraw and become the enemy of everyone else. That's all it is. It helps to be attractive and wealthy. But even then, the constant empathy that is needed for others is tiring. The worst is when people expect things from others that they want to do for themselves.
  31. Tracy Bracy from Toronto, Canada writes: Oh, and, the only bad thing about psychosis is that it may be deteriorating the brain or be a symptom of a physical deteriorating problem that will eventually cause a lot of pain and suffering and death. No one should be treated for mental illness. Their physical conditions should be cared for.
  32. Skeptical Observer from Canada writes: To the best of my knowledge, while it is true that drugs are not the main cause of schizophrenia, they do trigger it in people who otherwise would not have had it if they had not taken drugs. Especially marijuana. Schizophrenia is usually caused by events earlier in life such as psychological trauma, or very stressful childhood due to socioeconomic status combined with some genetic links. But the main trigger for otherwise mentally healthy individuals for the majority of cases are drugs, in particular THC (marijuana). Why increase your risks?? Prevention of sexual diseases says wear a condom, why does one need to smoke potentially dangerous "recreational drugs" that increase the risks of a mental health issues, that will negatively impact your life
  33. Kathy Boyda from Atikokan, Canada writes: I can relate to this story and it parallels the one my family is going through right now. The hardest part was getting a diagnosis and finding out how to make my son deal with his illness. It came down to us laying criminal charges against him and having the legal system force him to get help. We are only beginning the journey of hope. He has entered into a court diversion plan which will force him to take the medication and hopefully come to accept his illness. I sincerely hope he will do as well as Jesse. The illness is worse than a death because the person you knew isn't inside the shell of the body. It feels like an alien has taken over his body. I didn't realize how common mental illness is and it has opened my eyes. I congratulate the Globe & Mail for making this information available.
    When you are dealing with this you feel that you are all alone but with more open communication you realize you are not alone. Congratulations Jesse.
  34. Stephano Daliwal from Canada writes: I think there may be a link between mental illness and the chemicals in vaccines.
  35. Skeptical Observer from Canada writes: Stephano. Thats hilarious, vaccines are not made of chemicals in the sense that you are thinking. They are made of biomaterial of the flu etc, that has been irradiated.
  36. Patricia Teskey from Kawartha Lakes, Canada writes: Jesse's wonderful story illustrates the good news: people CAN turn around from psychosis to recovery. The bad news, is that Jesse's story is not typical. Jesse, quite rightly, "encourages people to seek treatment early, a key factor in better outcomes." However, we must look honestly at what is happening to most people who do seek help early. First, they can't access a First-Episode clinic. In the Greater Toronto Area, pop. 4 billion, there are only 2 or 3 First Episode clinics - with long waiting lists. Most psychotic people have no choice except the emergency dept of their community hospital. They will be sent home if not in enough of a crisis to get through triage. If admitted to the mental health dept, they will not be treated with the Best Practices of Early Intervention - they will get the opposite because, under Ministry regulations, hospitals are evaluated on how quickly they move people out of beds - not on patient outcomes. So compared to Jesse's 4-month stay, the average hospital stay for someone with schizophrenia is now less than 14 days.They are discharged before reaching a stable state or regaining the insight to know they are sick and need help. Often, it is only a matter of weeks before they go off their medication and slip back into full-blown psychosis.Then they go back to the hospital in crisis again - the pattern repeats itself for years. My own son was a "revolving door" patient for 4 years before a doctor agreed to detain him in hospital until the medication stabilized him. It took 9 weeks. The miracle came 2 weeks after discharge (11 weeks after starting medications) when the delusions and paranoia disappeared. His turnaround came in year 2000 - same as Jesse's - and like Jesse, has not been back to a hospital since. (Talk about saving money on hospital beds!) Jesse and my son should not be exceptions. Our goal should be: the Best Practices of Early Intervention should be standard practice in every hospital - not just first episode clinics.
  37. Skeptical Observer from Canada writes: well spoken, Patricia. Very good ideas.
  38. Patricia Teskey from Kawartha Lakes, Canada writes: I would like to make a correction to my last comment. It should read,"In the Greater Toronto Area, pop. 4 MILLION, there are only 2 or 3 First Episode clinics - with long waiting lists." The point still stands that the Best Practices of Early Intervention (such as Jesse Bigelow received at the First Episode clinic) are not accessible to most people seeking early help for psychosis. And our goal should be to ensure Best Practices of Early Intervention are available in the mental health departments of every community hospital.
  39. Al Gorman from Canada writes: The depth of understanding regarding the classification of schizophrenia on this discussion is impressive. Marijuana is known to cause psychosis. Individuals inflicted with the symptoms of psychosis and the schizophrenia classified mental illness can and do recover. Without debating the merits and drawbacks associated with antipsychotic drugs there is no clear evidence that drug therapies on their own facilitate full recovery. Harding's Vermont study indicated that over 50% recover over time. Rapid withdrawal of antipsychotic drugs can result in tardive psychosis. It is difficult to withdraw from these drugs. Psychotherapy and social/ family support systems are essential to recovery. Jung Frau congratulations! m k promoting that someone is 'sick' is not particularly helpful. Promoting they are 'schizophrenic' is not any better. No one is utterly schizophrenic and the condition does not exist absent the individual who is affected by it. Try growing schizophrenia in a petrie dish. (The symptom is called delusional and not delerium.) There is no consensus on the etiology of schizophrenia and the cause is not nearly as important as whether we can inspire recovery. Clearly weed and alcohol do not help and good social networking and meaning and purpose in life as well as accepting personal responsibility are essential to recovery.

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