Ask senior students at Sa-Hali secondary and they’ll tell you — psychosis sucks if there’s no one there to catch you.
Brocklehurst middle school and South Kamloops students might say the same after hearing the message from ReachOut Psychosis, a school concert tour making the rounds.
Sponsored by the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, the outreach program combines a live rock show, dancing and humour with a serious — and potentially lifesaving — message.
“Psychosis is a serious brain condition,” said tap dancer Susan Nase. “It involves a loss of reality.”
“If a friend is going through psychosis, what you’ll notice is a bunch of things will start to shift and they won’t seem like the same person,” Gavin Youngash, guitarist with the Vancouver band Frog Head, told a Sa-Hali assembly Wednesday morning.
Changes in personal routines and behavioural norms, or even changes in appearance, could be early symptoms of psychosis. Early detection and treatment offer greater assurance of speedy and complete recovery.
About three per cent of the population can experience psychosis due to a combination of environmental stresses and genetic vulnerability, they said.
“Who knows what we mean by genetic vulnerability?” asked Zach Cornfield, guitarist.
None of 400 hands shot up, but they got a quick lesson in inherited predisposition. Street drugs, extreme stress, hormonal changes, illness and brain injury can increase risk.
The peer awareness approach used by the performers helps remove the stigma that too often accompanies mental illness and complicates its treatment. Prior generations weren’t equipped to deal with an illness that presented itself so mysteriously. Teens can spiral downward, unable to help themselves and with no one to catch them.
“Psychosis is nobody’s fault,” Nase said. “We compare it to diabetes because, like diabetes, psychosis is a health condition. If they get proper treatment, they can go on to lead full, happy, productive lives.”
EPI — which stands for early psychosis intervention — clinics or a family physician are best for providing diagnosis and treatment.
“There’s one here in Kamloops,” Nase said of the clinics.
The latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry sounds an alarm over the need for public health strategies to cope with a large burden of mental illness.
Dr. Paul Kurdyak and co-authors calculated the burden of mental illness and found it to be greater than the four most common cancers combined or all infectious diseases combined. They attribute that to the fact that a large number of young people develop mental illnesses and addictions, reducing quality of life and leading to greater disability for prolonged periods of time.
Psychosis is a contributing factor in suicide, one of the leading causes of death among young Canadians, and the illness generally strikes between the ages of 16 and 24.
Joanne Simpson, school counsellor at Sa-Hali, felt the concert presentation was excellent. She’d hesitate to suggest that mental illness is on the rise among teens, but recognizes its prevalence primarily in the form of anxiety, depression and, to a lesser extent, psychosis.
“The key message here is that students most often will notice things in their friends before anybody else,” she said.