Earlier Detection in Mental Illness: Possible?

August 28, 2011 Randye Kaye

[caption id="attachment_254" align="alignright" width="119" caption="Thomas Insel, NIMH"]Thomas Insel, NIMH[/caption]

Let's hope so. Let's hope earlier detection is possible. Why? Because it's essential. At the NAMI Convention in Chicago a few weeks ago, Dr. Thomas Insel of NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) said that more research dollars are spent on tooth decay than on mental illness. Really? Wow! Here he talks about the real cost of lack of research.

As Ben Behind His Voices nears the official publication date (9/15/11), I find myself being interviewed more and more. Great! Here's another way to spread the messages of things like early detection, required education on the major mental illnesses for professionals, need for support and education for families, etc.

The more people access mental health blogs here on HealthyPlace, the more they read BBHV, the more we can help put the much-needed human face on mental illness, increase respect and reduce stigma.

Here's an excerpt from an interview for Oakland County Moms.

Oakland County Moms: In hindsight, what signs do you now recall from Ben's younger years that might have been red flags concerning his condition?

Randye Kaye: Although there are several patterns for the development of schizophrenia, Ben showed the most common one: gradual-onset. In males, signs usually begin to appear in mid-to-late teens, a critical time in brain development (which is far from complete at birth). Before this time, as a child, Ben had some symptoms of anxiety and attention deficit, but these signs are present in many children who do not go on to develop a mental illness. I'd say that the newer signs, starting slowly in high school and accelerating by the age of 16-17, included:

  1. surprisingly isolated behaviors, especially in the academic environment
  2. mood swings beyond what my friends' teens were exhibiting
  3. resistance to personal hygiene: haircuts, cleanliness
  4. statements that things like school grades, needing to work, etc. were "government plots" to control us
  5. drop in grades, inability to organize a day, get to places on time, be motivated to succeed
  6. marijuana use

Oakland County Moms: What should parents look for in their children? When and how should they know to bring their child to seek medical attention?

Randye Kaye: Any of the signs described above can look like signs of drug abuse too - or simply a "tough adolescence" - so diagnosing mental illness from these symptoms can be difficult. When these behaviors begin to get extreme - as if the teen has no control over them, and lacks the "Thermostat" to know when to stop - then it may be time to seek professional diagnosis and treatment. Research supports the theory that, caught early, mental illness can be treated before psychosis (equivalent to, say "Stage 3" in the cancer world) - and with early detection and treatment, the success rate is greater.

APA Reference
Kaye, R. (2011, August 28). Earlier Detection in Mental Illness: Possible?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Randye Kaye

Elaine Sylvester
September, 2 2011 at 4:20 am

Dear Randye,
Thank you for your sincere condolences. I don't know if our small town has the" crisis intervention team', but if this post helps others in my situation to know to ask for the right help in the time of a mental health crisis. Like you say our loved ones must"time" when they are going to need help beyond what our" love " can help them with. When love is not enough.
When a person calls 911 the people on the other end may think you need to be" rescued" from the mentally ill person. I want people to know to make it clear to 911 that you are in no way in danger, and that the mentally ill person needs help. You don't need to be rescued from them.
I hope sharing this sad experience will help someone avoid the needless pain our family is suffering by asking for the crisis intervention team if their precious family member needs help.
I hope too, that it will avoid someone calling 911 for" crisis intervention help", like me," blindly". Then have someone that probably has no training to deal with mental illness, let alone schizophrena show up and do what they did to my precious son.
I was touched by your comment that more research goes into preventing tooth decay than research on mental illness. This is so sadly true!
I also am adopting this saying," more skill, less kill, mentally ill"
The mental health person I was going to after this horrific thing happened said all first responders should be trained to recognize and deal effectively with the mentally ill. I agree so much with that.
I hope sharing our sad story will help someone.
Thank you again for your loving condolences.
Very sincerely,
Elaine Sylvester

Elaine Sylvester
August, 31 2011 at 6:43 am

My 35 year old schizophrenic son was tased to death.
He had been taking riperdal for years for the schizophrenia. The Del Norte mental health department changed his medication from risperdal to geodon.
Almost immediately I noticed a difference in my son's behavior. He was starting to take more of an interest in life and even bought himself and me and his brother and sister fishing poles and he even got himself a fishing license. Ten days before he was tased to death.
The geodon was helping my son in the negative symptoms of the schizophrenia I feel.
But at the same time, my son seemed agitated, and anxious. Which he never had exhibited those types of behavior. I called the mental health people, and I told them about that . They made an appointment for my son, and he came in and they gave him just another prescription for the geodon, nothing else.
Within two weeks of that appointment, my son woke the family up yelling. Which was so out of character for him that we left the house.
I tried to get a hold of mental health, but they were closed, and their recording said if this is an emergency to call 911. Well I did not have a phone book with me in the car, so I called 911 and told the dispatch how my son was schizophrenic and had recently had his medication changed and was yelling.
Dispatch asked if I would like to have someone come to my home to talk to my son, and I said yes . I thought they would talk to my son, and calm him down and get him some help. I did not know that the two sheriffs would come to our home and tase my son to death.
If dispatch had asked me if I would like to have two officers come to our home and tase my son, I would have said no.
I want people to know that when they call for" help" don't be stupid like I was, and assume the officers are trained to deal with mental illness, let alone schizophrenia. I want people to know if they call 911 their loved one could end up dead just like my precious son.
My son's death is listed as "excited delirium ". The fact that he was tased, and died , there is no mention of tase as being the cause of his death.
When the officers arrived my son said they were scaring him and to go away. He backed inside our home. The two officers rammed our door opened, and came inside our home and tased my son to death.
Their account says my son assaulted them.
Anyway, we are a very sad family.
Yes my son had schizophrenia. But his kind ways were always first and foremost.
We miss him so much.
His sad mom, Elaine Sylvester

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
August, 31 2011 at 7:23 am

Oh, Elaine. Your story just breaks my heart. I remember calling the crisis line once, and was told I had reached them during the wrong hours. Evidently families must time the crisis for between 8 am and 8 pm. But for your son to have been He sounds like he was a kind person. Those fishing poles will haunt me.
If you are another family member reading this post and its comments, please remember, if possible, to ask for the "Crisis Intervention Team" when calling 911; hopefully your local department has trained some of their officers, and it makes a huge difference in communication and empathy. This is why we must tell our stories: to spark change. My love to you and your family, Elaine. Your beautiful son is in my thoughts today.

Randye Kaye
August, 30 2011 at 10:06 am

Thanks, Elizabeth - so true!

August, 30 2011 at 9:29 am

I believe that early detection is crucial in those with mental illnesses. Maybe by detecting it earlier they can also find other ways to treat these types of illnesses besides medication. I also think that early detection can help others without the disease better understand it. Better understanding of the illness will help the stigmas that come along with it. There are several people who once they hear that someone has this automatically think "crazy" when in reality those with any mental illness can live long productive lives as long as they keep their illness under control.

Randye Kaye
August, 29 2011 at 3:14 am

Hi Rossa -
I believe Thomas Insel's rush is to more research, more definitive ways to determine what is really happening when these symptoms occur. In Ben's case, you are right about my experience with his early providers. Even if no medications were prescribed at that time, it would have been easier on my family if there had not been so much time and money wasted in blaming the family dynamic instead of seeing that his illness was a possible reason. You and I may disagree about the need for medications, but we are completely on that same page when it comes to the fact that medication alone is not the solution. If Ben has a Peter Pan thing going on, my belief is that his schizophrenia is partly to blame for that, in that it inhibits his ability to make the connections we usually begin to see as we enter young adulthood. I'm so glad your son's outcome is a happy one.

Rossa Forbes
August, 28 2011 at 9:51 pm

I see Thomas Insel's rush to early detection as a way of helping pharmaceutical companies' bottom line. Many vulnerable young people who actually would not go on to develop psychosis would be given unnecessary medications that have dangerous side effects. Dr. Allen Frances, chair of the DSM-IV task force, is vehemently against the creation of a new DSM catetegory "pyschosis risk syndrome" for that reason. One thing that struck me when reading your book was how clueless the people are who should know what psychosis looks like. My own experience bears this out. Parents only have their immediate family to judge these things, but high schools and universities see large numbers of students day in and day out. Adolescence is exactly the time when psychosis begins for young males. Yet, no teacher at my son's high school raised an alarm bell when his excellent grades began to slip and he began to withdraw socially. The staff at his university must have noticed his increasingly odd behavior. They would have seen hundreds like him over the course of their career. In your case, you would think the staff at the outward bound type experience you sent your son on would have noticed something more than the usual behavioral problems. I used to feel terrible that I waited so long to get help for my son, but now I'm not sure that the outcome would have been any different. (Thankfully, it's a happy outcome.) As you know, I tend to take a more spiritual view of this "illness." Schizophrenia in particular comes at a time in a young man's life when he has more questions than answers and he often seeks out religious and existential themes to help him make sense of it all. I also think there's a Peter Pan thing going on, and the child is resisting becoming an adult.

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