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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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VA Conference Delves into the Frightening World of Schizophrenia

April 15, 2002

VA Conference Delves into the Frightening World of Schizophrenia

Experts discuss current advances in understanding, treatment, and effective community rehabilitation

HOUSTON, TX - With the Andrea Yates' disturbing case on the top of the news every night, mental illness has become a much talked-about subject lately. The Houston VA Medical Center's South Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) and the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston recently held a symposium focusing on the research advances in understanding, treatment, and effective community rehabilitation of schizophrenia.

The March 14-15 conference attracted almost 300 participants including individuals suffering from the disease, their family members, mental health advocates, and health care professionals from Houston medical facilities and Veterans Health Administration facilities across the country.

Mental illness, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression affect one in five people and one in four families according to the National Mental Health Association.

"Our mission at the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC) is to generate new knowledge about the causes and treatments of mental disorders and its application to model clinical programs. We attempt, through education, to improve the quality of veterans' lives, their daily functioning, and to assist veterans in recovering from mental illness," said event organizer Dr. Kathryn Kotrla, VA's Associate Director for Improving Clinical Care, South Central MIRECC.

Noted speakers included Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D., Chief, Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, National Institutes of Health, who discussed the latest advances in understanding the neurobiology and genetics of schizophrenia. Dr. Weinberger broke the news that scientists in his group have identified a gene that increases the risk for developing schizophrenia. This gene is likely to be one of many that interact with the environment during brain development to cause individuals to be more susceptible to schizophrenia. The gene is involved in metabolizing dopamine, a neuro transmitter involved in schizophrenia.

Donna A. Wirshing, M.D., Co-Chief, Schizophrenia Outpatient Treatment Clinic, Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, followed Dr. Weinberger. Dr. Wirshing spoke about the newest generation of antipsychotic medications that interact with dopamine to reduce the delusions and hallucinations associated with schizophrenia. These medications also work against the withdrawal and apathy that can accompany the disorder.

The director of the UCLA Psycho REHAB Program & Center for Research in Treatment & Rehabilitation of Psychosis, Dr. Robert P. Liberman, discussed methods of rehabilitating individuals with mental illness so they can find employment and rejoin society.

Also on the agenda was Patrick Corrigan, Psy. D., Executive Director, Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Univ. of Chicago. Presenting ideas on how to diminish the societal fear of mental illness, he said, ""Recovery is the vision. Rehabilitation skills are the tools needed to accomplish this vision."

On Friday, physicians and mental health experts from the Veterans Health Administration exchanged best practices and discussed VA initiatives. One example presented was the HVAMC's Mental Health Intensive Case Management. This is where mental health professionals monitor chronic cases on a daily basis to provide continuous care and ensure the patient is compliant with their medication schedule.

Finally, conference attendees were able to learn first-hand about mental illness. Moe Armstrong, a schizophrenic, a poet, and a lifelong crusader for people with mental illness, gave his personal account of living with schizophrenia and what constitutes best practice from a patient's perspective.

"The conference allowed mental health professionals to listen and learn and to discuss treatment options. Its success has encouraged us to make this gathering an annual event," said event coordinator Brenda Schubert, Houston VA Medical Center's MIRECC Psychiatry Program Support Assistant. "Additionally, it has generated widespread publicity about schizophrenia, providing education for providers, advocates, and patients, concordant with the MIRECC's mission."

Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25