Psychosis sufferers get a voice

By Rowena Orejana


"Reality," says Debra Lampshire, "isn't always gentle and kind and loving."

Medicated and institutionalised for most of her life, Ms Lampshire has always struggled with psychosis, a mental health condition that affects around 3 per cent of the population.

People with psychosis lose contact with reality, changing the way they think and behave. Ms Lampshire says, for her, seeking treatment was "like surrendering your life".

"What can happen when you come to services is that people start writing. They write notes or whatever and they start writing your life. And then you take that on as a reality," she says.

She says being in a mental institution made her madness worse. Although her psychosis would come and go, she was locked in a place where madness was all there was.

"My experience was that you are going to deteriorate in that environment. This is what we are challenging now," she says.

"I've learned to manage with the help of the people I trust."

The Hillsborough resident says she has been well only when someone has really listened to her story.

Recently, she put that down on paper, and it appears in a book called Experiencing Psychosis.

It combines personal stories with research, uniting 27 contributors from eight countries.

Clinical psychologist Dr Jim Geekie, the editor, says it tries to balance expertise with experience.

"The subjective experience of people with these difficulties is often not recognised. There are lots of people with fantastic stories to tell. This is not to say that clinicians don't bring in the expertise but it's not the only expertise that's important," he explains.

Psychiatrist Dr Patte Randal, who has also experienced psychosis, says she's richer for having undergone the experience. "I learned to manage my recovery journey despite my training in mental health, because that did not help me in any way," she says.

"I don't take medication anymore and I've been fine without it," she says.

Because psychosis affects a person's thought processes through the hearing of voices, treatment is often a decision taken out of their hands.

The convention is early intervention through anti-psychotic medication.

But Dr Randal says that means the person's reality is often ignored.

"I think we have to develop a completely different way of understanding what a person is experiencing," she says.

"All these experiences have some meaning. It isn't simply fantasy. It has a connection to their lives. Often, it's an expression of some aspects of unbearable experience in their lives."

She says what she learned from her own experience - and from Ms Lampshire's - is how to use the psychotic experience to help other people learn how to manage theirs.

Dr Geekie agrees personal experience is important. "This book is about trying to build that bridge of trust between the different kinds of expertise. It's about trying to understand the human experience and people who are immersed in it," he says.

Ms Lampshire says it is about time the mental health community dealt with the human aspect of psychosis.

"We're quite deeply steeped in the science already. What we need to work on is the humanity," she says.

Voices in their heads

Ms Lampshire says even when she was in the throes of madness, she knew something was not right.

"Often, the reality that people are trying to deal with are ever so tormented and ever so cruel that the only way you could possibly give voice to it is by wrapping it up," she says.

Her thoughts would race and her words would not come out fast enough. She says what she expressed sounded like random thoughts even though they arewere actually linked and have basesactually had a basis in her reality.

"You actually haven't got the ability to stop and reflect. You need to alleviate that anxiety in some ways and take stock of things. Having some one around who can help you do that is incredibly helpful," she adds.

She says being in a mental institution made her madness worse. While her psychosis would come and go, she was locked in a place where madness is all there is.

"My experience was that you are going to deteriorate in that environment. This is what we are challenging now,"she says. "I've learned to manage with the help of the people I trust."

She says, in some ways, people with psychosis need to come out of the closet.

"People need role models. That would give them hope."

For information on psychosis www.earlypsychosis.org.nz and www.mentalhealth.org.nz

- THE AUCKLANDER

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