Recovering from Schizophrenia: Taking a Family Approach

Be patient. Take care of yourself. Be part of the community; don’t isolate yourself. Go to your local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) group. And savor every little victory.

That’s advice that Robert Laitman, M.D., gives to people living with schizophrenia, born from his own family’s experience. At the 2019 Drs. Fred and Penny Frese Lecture, held Monday, Oct. 14, at the NEW Center Ballroom, Dr. Laitman spoke about working through the challenges of having a child diagnosed with schizophrenia, as his son, Daniel, had been.

The Frese Lecture, held annually and open to the public, is presented by the NEOMED Department of Psychiatry and Peg’s Foundation. It features speakers sharing stories of individuals living successfully with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses and the ways in which their loved ones support their recovery.

Denial, then hope

It didn’t matter that he was a physician married to another physician, or that there was a history of mental illness in his family, said Dr. Laitman. When he learned that Daniel, then 15, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, he had felt surprise and denial, just as any parent might.

Yet the story he told this audience – community members, mental health professionals, and NEOMED faculty, staff and students – was about the hope his family found in discovering the right diagnosis, medication (clozapine) and other treatments for his son, who appeared with him for the event. These days, Daniel Laitman is a college graduate who performs at comedy clubs, and who on this occasion shared a bit of his standup routine with the audience.

After witnessing the power of clozapine to change lives Dr. Robert Laitman, who is a nephrologist, discovered his own passion for helping patients with serious mental illnesses. Today he prescribes and advocates for the use of clozapine to help people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses find the hope and help offered by best treatment practices. 

Questions from the audience

Audience members took the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session following Dr. Laitman’s presentation. One point that Dr. Laitman stressed was the importance of getting treatment early. The longer someone has been sick, the longer it will take to recover, he said.

Finding the right diagnosis and treatment can be complex, since there are different forms of schizophrenia and different medications are effective – or not – depending on the underlying cause of the schizophrenia,” said Erik Messamore, M.D., Ph.D., who spoke later in the event with Sara Dugan, Pharm.D., about the NEOMED Clozapine Assistance Service. Dr. Messamore, an associate professor of psychiatry and the medical director for the department’s Best Practices in Schizophrenia Treatment (BeST) Center, said more U.S. physicians don’t prescribe clozapine because they’re not familiar with how, when and why to use it.

And it’s not enough to simply prescribe the drug, cautioned Dr. Dugan. Clozapine needs to be taken as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. When it is – as in Scandinavian countries where its use is much more common than in the U.S. – patients report an improved quality of life, said Dr. Dugan, an associate professor of pharmacy practice and associate professor of psychiatry at NEOMED.

An expectation of recovery

Recovery from schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses is possible, stressed Mark Munetz, M.D., The Margaret Clark Morgan Chair of Psychiatry, in his introductory remarks: With the right treatment, people with schizophrenia can and do recover.

Penny Frese, Ph.D. (pictured raising hand), who attended the lecture named for her late husband and her, said after the event that she would like an expectation of recovery to be the norm.

“It’s not optimism; it’s experience,” she said. “I’ve seen it happen, and more people need to see that people with this illness can lead normal lives.”

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