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As the father of a man who has lived nearly 20 years with schizoaffective disorder, a condition with symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, mania and depression, life isn’t always easy. Our son was forced to drop out of college in his sophomore year after he suddenly began hearing voices. His initial misdiagnosis as bipolar set him and us on a years-long odyssey of psychoses, hospitalizations, and intermittent periods of stability before he would crash again.

Today, however, my son has a quality of life that we once feared was beyond his reach, thanks to an evidence-based therapeutic approach that offers new hope to struggling patients and their families.

This approach was similar to treatment discussed in a landmark study Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and reported last fall in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers found that first-episode schizophrenia patients experienced more positive results when treated with a specialty care approach. Individuals who received low dosages of drugs along with talk therapy, family counseling and help with outside pursuits like school and work, faired better after two years than those receiving only drug-heavy “standard” care.

Our son finally stabilized when we found a private residential treatment center in Holly, Michigan, Rose Hill Center. His therapists — psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses — monitored him closely, 24/7, in contrast to the half hour at a time in the hospital and his treatment plan was individualized. His daily routine there, including interactions with peers and staff and his job working with farm animals at the Center, demonstrated the positive impact that low-stress environment can have on recovery.

Our son, now 36, today has his own apartment, works, is a college graduate, is active in church, and is involved in coaching and playing sports. He’s monitored on his medication and visits his therapists for regular check-ins. He is proof that there is hope for a life after a diagnosis of severe mental illness. But, it requires time, patience, a comprehensive approach and funding.

We are openly discussing our son’s illness to help create the momentum for others who are in similar situations. We can help them take the courageous steps to seek help before symptoms worsen to a crisis level. And we must openly discuss mental illness and we must listen.

Dave Boerger, Orchard Lake

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