December 31, 2013

Recovery on the Run: Schizophrenia

My brother has schizophrenia.

It was noticeable when he came back from Bosnia, though my mom and I suspect the signs were there for years. He went through Hell and came out brutalized, faced tremendous discrimination following the Virginia Tech shootings, and continues to butt heads with the VA seeking both the medical and mental health treatment necessary to keep his illness in check, without sacrificing his mental clarity and physical health to the side effects of antipsychotics.

He's one of my heroes.

For all of the stigma and discrimination that he has faced, my dear brother maintains a faith in the goodness of humanity that is unparalleled in this world. He opens his home and his heart to anyone in need, because he understands what it's like to not be given a chance. All he wants in this world is to love and protect his son, be good to others, and find a woman who will treat him with the same level of compassion and honesty with which he treats others.

But for someone with schizophrenia, finding love is no easy prospect, and since schizophrenia affects over 24 million people worldwide, that can be a lot of lonely, stigmatized people who are facing a chronic illness with extensive social, health, and economic implications:
•Premature death (15-25 years earlier than the general population)
•Diabetes (2x rate of the general population)
•Cardiovascular disease
•Staggering rates of unemployment (80% unemployment in UK)
•Smoking (2-4x higher than general population)
•Obesity (80% of people treated with anti-psychotics experience rapid, significant weight gain)
Because of the additional stigma associated with obesity in the United States, people with schizophrenia face additional barriers to finding and attaining healthy relationships. And because people who have schizophrenia are bound to their drugs to stay mentally healthy, they can feel trapped by the weight gain, adding to their anxiety, victimization, and low self-esteem. So you can see that it’s impossible to unwrap one symptom from the other; each complexity of the illness plays into the creation and sustenance of the others.

And Yet…
Exercise can mediate each of the comorbidities associated with schizophrenia spectrum disorders

Psychoeducational interventions and cognitive behavioral therapy have both been proven ways to decrease body mass index (BMI), lower blood pressure, and improve healthy behaviors. It's also shown to increase feelings of Hope, Self Esteem and Self-efficacy, which are integral to recovering from schizophrenia.

And herein lies the secret: Social Support is KEY to recovery from schizophrenia. I know that for my brother, having his group of guys that he hangs out with regularly has been instrumental in getting his self-esteem back, finding a job, having people who validate his feelings, and knowing that he doesn't have to go through this hardship on his own.

And that's where running comes in. Group exercise would give someone like my brother both the social support that he so desperately needs, help him manage the weight gain from his medications, and even cut down on his smoking (because any runner will tell you that running is a helluva drug for anxiety!)

Shoot, maybe he'd even meet a gal.

And that, my friends, is what Recovery on the Run is all about. It's not just my steps toward personal healing, but the steps I hope I can help others take in their journeys toward wellness, too.

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