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November 1st, 2011
08:20 AM ET

Human Factor: There is no face of schizophrenia

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle injury, illness or other hardship they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week  Ashley Smith shares the shock and struggle of learning she had schizophrenia.

In the summer of 2007, my life changed drastically when I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 20.

I was made aware of my illness when I stole a military truck from an airport and went on a high-speed chase with the police. I was jailed and later hospitalized for that crime.

I am now on my journey to recovery with the support of family, treatment team, peers and my faith. I share my recovery story as often as I can because I want to help reduce stigma, change perceptions, and encourage an open conversation about mental illness.

My hope is that that the public will have a better understanding of schizophrenia, be supportive of people living with it, be open to discuss one’s need for treatment, and help them seek treatment. Support and treatment are the keys to successfully managing schizophrenia and there are resources available to help consumers, caregivers, family, co-workers and friends understand it and that recovery is very possible.

I encourage people to visit www.choicesinreovery.com to get that information. You can also view the documentary, “Living With Schizophrenia: A Call For Hope and Recovery,” which is about three people, including myself, who are living successful and productive lives.

Two additional things about schizophrenia that I want to share is that there is no face to schizophrenia; and that the myths that people with schizophrenia are violent, have split personalities and that it is caused by poor parenting are not true. As you can see from my story, I do not fit the stereotype of how people characterize the condition and the people who have it.

Coping with schizophrenia: Why you need a crisis plan

I did not know what schizophrenia was prior to being diagnosed. I did not know that I had a history of mental health in my family, and I did not recognize that the illness was gradually stealing my identity. But now that I am aware of my condition, I am fighting back by giving back and sharing information to spread awareness and hope through my nonprofit Embracing My Mind, Inc.

The hardest thing I’ve had to cope with was the fact that I have a lifelong diagnosis and I will be in treatment for the rest of my life. If there was something I could change it would be societal acceptance of mental health and schizophrenia to be viewed as a medical condition like any other.

I’m hopeful that through my story, people will become more aware of schizophrenia and change their perceptions about it. I’m hopeful that people who witness my story on Human Factor will provide comments to this blog on whether my story has helped them to better understand schizophrenia and put them on the road to changing their perceptions.


soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Pam

    Thanks for having the courage to share your experience and knowledge about schizophrenia. My family has a history of mental illness, and the stigma associated with it is so damaging.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. vernelleburkins

    I have issues and glad 2 c there is hope.

    November 1, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Harold A. Maio

    There is no face to schizophrenia

    There is no one face, there are many, from people holding doctorates and awards to people presently helpless.

    November 1, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. C.J.

    Thankfully you are in recovery and leading a healthy life. This is often not the case for people with schizophrenia. Many are permanently disabled by their condition and unable to work or adequately care for themselves. Housing and care are often not affordable for individuals trying to make a living on disability payments. Many end up homeless and without the medication they so desperately need. Please, support additional subsidies and services for these folks.

    November 1, 2011 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Justin

      Why in the world do you think it's necessary to post this. This article is purposefully shedding some hope on it; people don't need to be made aware that it's 'hopeless' or that schizophrenia will have any other negative outcome. That developed hopelessness idea is what people should be avoiding. Yes,subsidies and services is a beneficial support method, but your negative 'enlightenment' isn't.

      November 1, 2011 at 20:59 | Report abuse |
    • Catherine

      @Justin, probably because the lack of knowledge about many mental illnesses is exactly why people are unable to get health services. The writer of this article seems fortunate in that they have the ability and support system to succeed, but many don't. People wonder why homeless people are "lazy" and don't just get jobs, but most of them are mentally ill. More knowledge to what this does to a person's life could help many people. It's not negative, iot's the truth.

      November 3, 2011 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  5. mindy schoen

    Ashley, My mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia in the 1970's it was so in the closet. It was the worse time of my life, she was fine one day and the next she was putting signs all over the house, everyone was out to get her. She would throw bit fits on her parents. I was so ashamed that my mother was sick. She kept telling the family that someone had put LSD in her drink. She was 45 when it was full blown. We didn't believe her at first but thirty years later we do now. We tried to get her help but she was not a danger to herself or anyone else. She lived on her own without medication until she died at the age of 80. People need to remember that children of schizophrenia can also have mood disorders. Keep up the great work and I hope you can have all your dreams come true.

    November 2, 2011 at 07:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Cary

    She needs to know going into a therapy degree to never tell coworkers that she is schizophrenic. I've been fired because I told human resources as a therapist and I know of others with the illness who have also been fired for telling. Employers can make up any reason they want to fire someone, no matter how obvious it is. The stigma is well entrenched even with the same people who are trying to help people with schizophrenia. I am very proud of what I over came, but very selective with who I tell.

    November 2, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • webbbyte

      How should employers address employees or potential candidates with schizophrenia?

      November 6, 2011 at 06:26 | Report abuse |
    • Chrisa Hickey

      The same way employers handle any other candidate with any other disability or illness. That's like asking how you'd handle a candidate in a wheelchair.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse |
  7. Bob

    This article only increases feelings of hopelessness about our once great society.

    It seems that almost EVERYONE is disabled one way or another these days. Tell me, who will keep society running when we ALL reduce ourselves to these roles where we drain more resources than we give back?

    I'm sorry, but the mental-illness epidemic is no different than the obesity epidemic. It is self induced. And if you are genetically predisposed to a condition, then by all means, get treatment. But do us all a favor and don"t have kids.

    November 2, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kelly

      Bob,your comparison of the "mental-illness epidemic" to the "obesity epidemic" is completely unfounded. Mental illnesses are hereditary conditions that can be brought on, in many cases, by genes alone. Many of the illnesses have relatively sudden symptoms, ones that can't be combatted by the victim.

      Obesity is very much an epidemic, but one we know much more about and could potentially handle without the need of medical prescriptions – better nutrition, exercise, etc. Obesity is a very recent problem in our society, unlike mental illnesses, which have been around for millennia.

      November 3, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • dina

      Bob,
      Your presumptions and comments are ignorant and ill-informed. Mental illness is disease of the brain just the same as if you had a broken leg or the flu.

      December 3, 2011 at 19:47 | Report abuse |
  8. Jack William Atkins

    THE CURE FOR ALL MENTAL ILLNESS

    http://www.thecureforallmentalillness.com

    November 3, 2011 at 05:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lamiz

      Great chatting with you toghnit Dave (the random stranger who stopped by as you were shooting downtown). You have some truly amazing shots here. I love the colour and contrast. If you're interested, feel free to send me a e-mail. I'd love to maybe shoot with you some time. Steve

      September 13, 2012 at 21:08 | Report abuse |
  9. Cary

    Sorry, but most people don't get it from their parents genes.

    November 3, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Henry Wolfinger

    My son John suffers from this illness, it's sometimes a helpless feeling I have, you want to help, but you just don't know how sometimes. You just keep going on, trying and praying. Thanks for trying to create a better understandjing of this illness.

    November 4, 2011 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Karen Sherry Brackett

    First, I would like to thank Dr. Gupta and Ms. Smith both for this report. I hope that they will do follow up pieces concerning this topic. The term schizophrenia means split brain. Basically, under stress the human brain has the capiability to do a remarkable survival instinct which is to stay awake 24 hours a day. It comes at a cost however in that the half of the brain that is awake while viewing reality will also be seeing the dreams as if real of the half that is asleep. So, it becomes confussing and disabling over long periods of stress. This is what some of our soldiers are dealing with in coming home from war. The stress of war has placed great fatique on their minds and bodies and has kept them in heightened alert for long periods of time. In pioneer days during a Indian raid which might have lasted a few days to a week the ability of the human brain to do this would have been a survival instinct. However, in today's world of war which last decades and unending periods of stress, the brians receptors can get stuck in this mode. It is very similar really to a muscle spasm of the brian. There are other things that can trigger it besides war such as sleep apnea or anything that deprives the mind of rest. There are medications for this and doing simple things such as avoiding caffine and nicotine so that the brian is able to sleep on cue at night with both sides resting is beneficial. In addition, all schizophrenics really should be tested and treated as if they have sleep apnea because in most cases this patient truly does fall into the sleep disorder range of diseases. A very small percent of people are born with the disease and in those cases only it will show up on a CAT scan in brian images that exhibit extra empty spaces in the brain which are most likely created from malnutrition in the womb or in childhood rather than genetic heritage. Before diabetes was understood people thought diabetics were under the control of demons and people who had heart attacks were "bad" people at heart. For someone to loose their job over this disease is ignorance at it's best. So, I really appreciate CNN covering this material and Ashley's courage in coming forward and attempting to educate the public on it. It is about time this country move into the modern era from the dark ages when it comes to mental illnesses. Most of the problem no doubt is due to uneducated Hollywood screenplay writers and movie producers. There have been schizophrenics who have become successful neurologists and surgeons. In fact, most people in the health care professions are there due to their own conditions or the conditions of family members.

    November 5, 2011 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kiki Ford

    I am proud that you are strong and facing life's challenges. Please know that this is only the beginning of good things to come. God bless you in furture endeavors. Love Kiki

    November 6, 2011 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Chrisa Hickey

    As the mom of a teen with this disorder, thank you for sharing your story.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. linda

    My son became scizophrenic after using marijuana. I have heard that this cause is on the increase. It would be interesting
    to know the statistics for marijuana-induced schizophrenia. Thank you for your encouraging words. We live day by day and
    trust that our son will be able to live a full and normal life. Time will tell.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nessajj

      I really apetpciare your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.My blog is on .

      September 14, 2012 at 01:47 | Report abuse |

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.