Schizophrenia patient speaks out

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Mental illness can impact just about anyone. In fact, research published through the National Alliance for Mental Illness suggests 25 percent of Americans will experience some type of mental illness during the course of their lifetime.

While each illness presents its own challenges, some are much more disturbing or debilitating than others. Schizophrenia impacts about 1 percent of the population. New research out of Sweden shows the risk is twice as high for children to develop the disorder when born to father 45 and older compared to men in their mid-20s.

The problem is that the signs of schizophrenia don’t surface until a child reaches their mid-teens and can emerge as late as someone’s late 20s.

Such was the case for Justin McKinley, a Schizophrenic patient at the Jefferson, Blount, and St. Clair Mental Health Authority.

“I used to be full of life,” McKinley said. “Now? Not so much full of life.”

McKinley’s life changed in 2009 when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Though one in four Americans will suffer from mental illness at some point in their life, 60 percent will go undiagnosed.

For McKinley, the diagnosis was a shock.

“I didn’t know what schizophrenia was. You know, it was so new to me,” McKinley said.

Like most Americans living with a mental illness, McKinley rejected clinical help.

“He just wasn’t ready to accept the diagnosis,” said Rico James with J.B.S. Mental Health Authority. “I think it was the stigma you always hear.”

James is an registered nurse. He says McKinley’s reaction is common.

“When they hear that diagnosis, they don’t want that to define them, so he was frustrated,” James said. “I understand that.”

The hallucinations heard and seen by those suffering with schizophrenia differ with each person.

“I thought cameras were following me,” McKinley said. “I thought people wanted to harm me and then there were even other occasions when I wanted to harm myself.”

It took multiple hospitalizations before he was ready to accept that help was necessary. Now, five years later, McKinley is managing his illness with medication and psychiatric visits.

“I just kind of stay to myself now, because I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” McKinley said.

He’s working through those fears and is telling his story in hopes of helping spread awareness and reduce the stigma in society.

It’s also an appeal to other families out there that help is available.

For more information on schizophrenia, click here, here and here.

2014 WIAT-TV CBS42

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