Last month on Capitol Hill, APA, along with the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus and the American Brain Coalition, hosted a briefing titled “Update on Schizophrenia: Applying Science, Stopping the Stigma, Improving Lives,” which highlighted for members of Congress and their staffs the latest research on treatments for schizophrenia presented by leading researchers and patient advocates.
“As we struggle to adequately address mental health in this country, it’s essential that Congress have better understanding of the causes and consequences of schizophrenia and address the associated stigma,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), cochair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus. “Only through research and collaboration by groups like the National Institute of Mental Health and the many members of the American Psychiatric Association can we find the proper ways to improve the lives of those who suffer from this disease through early action.”
APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., opened the briefing, which he moderated. “The statistics of schizophrenia show that 1 percent of Americans—3 million—live with this illness,” he emphasized. “Schizophrenia affects men and women equally and occurs at similar rates in ethnic groups across the world.”
APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., a leading schizophrenia researcher, discussed the strong link between psychiatry and neuroscience and how it may lead to the development of diagnostic tests to help predict the likelihood of schizophrenia episodes in those at greatest risk.
APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D. (left), and APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., discuss schizophrenia research developments at a Capitol Hill briefing for Congress last month. See story below.
“We currently do not get people until they show in up the emergency room…or police station after having had a psychotic episode,” said Lieberman. He explained that since there are no current medications to fully restore patients’ mental health to that prior to their initial psychotic episode, it is of utmost importance that researchers focus on developing interventions that can prevent the disease’s progress.
Lisa Dixon, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Practice Innovations at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry, discussed her research in the National Institute of Mental Health–funded study, Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE), a project trying to reduce the long-term disability that can result from schizophrenia, so that teenagers with the disease have the resources they need to lead productive and independent lives.
“Support for employment and education is not something that we typically have in the mental health package. It is critically important to keep these young people in their lives—keeping them on track and on trajectory,” said Dixon. She further explained that the RAISE initiative is not a project in which people seek out the program for support; instead “the program goes to the people.”
Laurie Flynn, former executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and parent of an adult child with schizophrenia, said that she is thankful for all the individuals who are dedicated to lessening the burdens on families who must deal with mental illness. Flynn addressed the challenges of securing services for a loved one from the family’s perspective, including the limits of current treatment options and the financial burdens of paying for care.
“Schizophrenia is a truly devastating illness,” said Flynn. “We must have more and better treatments to help people move toward recovery. Patients and their families place great hope in research.”
Levin stressed for the members of Congress and others at the briefing that APA will continue to be a strong advocate for more federal investment in biomedical research that provides evidence-based treatment for difficult-to-treat psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. He concluded by reminding the audience of the enormous financial burden that mental illness imposes on the country’s economy and on the patients and families who have to pay for care.
He also emphasized that developments arising from medical research can have a powerful impact on health care costs. Levin reinforced this message, stating that, “The cost of mental illness in the U.S. is some $99 billion each year, and scientific advances such as those presented today have the potential to greatly enhance patient care as well as reduce future health care expenditures.” ■