Helping young people recover from psychosis
Ben Taman describes his episodes of psychosis as "a volcano of weirdness."
He has heard things that aren’t there – like somebody banging furiously on his door. He has seen things that aren’t there – like a famous pop star showing up in his apartment.
He has even done things that he can’t explain – like suddenly dashing off to Des Moines.
Much of that drama is behind him, Ben says, thanks to a research program from the University of Minnesota.
Responds Dr. Sophia Vinogradov, head of the U of M’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, and a physician with M Health Fairview: “Most of the credit goes to Ben and the people who love him, including his wife, Nailah. That, along with a good treatment program.”
“Just think how terrifying it can be.”
Psychosis is a symptom, not a disease, that is often seen in schizophrenia and other illnesses.
It’s characterized by hallucinations, delusions and, in general, an inability to recognize what’s real and what’s not.
Psychosis affects some four percent of us. The episodes experienced vary in frequency and intensity. Some are so mild that people actually can feel a sense of elation and connectedness.
Observes Dr. Vinogradov, “psychosis can actually have this artistic or even spiritual quality to it.”
“Catching the train before it leaves the station.”
Researchers blame a disconnection within our vast neural networks for psychosis.
Although there may be genetic components, that misfiring can be triggered by anything from injury, illness, and substance abuse to stress.
Early intervention, before changes in the brain become more difficult to reverse, is critical.
The Adult Strengths Program at M Health Fairview and University of Minnesota Physicians primarily works with people in their late teens and early 20s.
It’s a time not only when psychosis is most likely to appear, but also one filled with important developmental tasks in the brain.
Says Dr. Vinogradov: “They’re getting their first job. Going to college. Getting into relationships. Imagine not being able to process reality accurately.”
“The symptoms of psychosis are related to things that make us human.”
Ben, who at 30 has battled psychosis for 14 years, doesn’t fit that early intervention model.
Since moving to Minneapolis, he had bounced from doctor to doctor and medication to medication.
In desperation, Ben and Nailah sent an email to Dr. Vinogradov, one of the world’s leading experts on psychosis. The email included the trailer from Ben’s movie about living with psychosis.
The doctor was moved by its unusual insights: “It was an incredible opportunity to hear about the internal experience of someone who’s been through this.”
“Ben is an example of full recovery.”
Just a year into the program, Ben’s life has been transformed.
He found “his person” in Nailah. He landed the full-time job of his dreams in video storytelling.
And though he still has occasional symptoms, he has the tools and team to help.
Ben even sees a bright side to his experience —the importance of “kindness” to everybody, no matter their own “volcano of weirdness.”
Insights from a Psychiatrist: Understanding Psychosis
Learn more, as Dr. Sophia Vinogradov explains psychosis.
1. What is psychosis?
2. What causes psychosis?
3. When do psychosis episodes happen?
4. What are some interventions for psychosis?
5. How does your research contribute to psychosis treatment?
PUTTING DISCOVERY INTO PRACTICE
M Physicians are an extension of the University of Minnesota Medical School. As Medical School faculty, they are always looking for new and better ways to treat patients, whether in the laboratory or the clinic. And through clinical trials, cutting-edge therapies are sometimes available to patients when the standard of care is no longer enough.
What is Academic Medicine?
Most medicine is practiced within what is called “the standard of care.” Simply put, “standard of care” is the treatment that is commonly accepted for treating illness. This is a good thing! It means that patients receive treatments that are known to be generally effective and reliable.
The goal of academic medicine is to treat patients while looking for better therapies. It takes the toughest problems from the clinic and looks for solutions in our research. Many of our physicians — leaders in their fields — are also scientists.
When a patient faces an illness that requires treatment that exceeds the standard of care, academic medicine can provide access to newer therapies.