14 years ago, a very talented and gifted student of mine completed suicide on September 4th, as a result of developing schizophrenia as a teenager. I think of him often, but even more so as the season changes from summer to fall. Brain disease is an illness that few want to acknowledge but many are impacted by, either knowingly or unknowingly.
His life was stolen from him by this dreaded disease. He had a beautiful spirit and an engaging smile. He had many dreams and ambitions that he did not get to actualize. It is his spirit that guides and motivates me in the work that I do here at the Federation of Families.
So as I remember this young man who tried his best to live with this brain disease, I encourage all to be supportive and understanding and to educate oneself about brain diseases. People are not their disease and behavior is not the illness. According to the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, “Behavior is NOT the illness; rather a response to symptoms of Schizophrenia such as: hallucinations, delusions, anosognosia , disorganized thinking, confusion, paranoia, and anhedonia.”
The National Institutes of Health has recently embarked on a landmark study that will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children beginning at ages 9-10 through adolescence into early adulthood. “We know the brain is still developing well into the mid-20s, making it vulnerable to a host of influences,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “With several NIH institutes and centers working together on this important study, we will be able to learn how a variety of biological events and environmental exposures affect brain development, giving us greater insight into what helps adolescents traverse that potentially tumultuous time to become healthy and productive adults.” It is hoped that the findings of this study will reveal protective factors to prevent the development of brain diseases such as schizophrenia.