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Recognizing the complexity of schizophrenia is crucial to its treatment

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Schizophrenia, a condition that afflicts about 1 percent of the U.S. population, is a "chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves," according to the National Institute of Mental Health.   

Host Angela Davis explored schizophrenia with two guests on Wednesday, May 22, as  part of Mental Health Awareness Month.

One of those guests is Dr. Marielle Demarais, a psychologist and director of Hennepin HealthCare's HOPE program, which works with clients after they've experienced their first episode of psychosis, the brain's inability to process reality. Psychosis can be a sign of schizophrenia. 

If a client seeks care at HOPE following a first episode of psychosis, Demarais and her team start treatment on multiple fronts. The client receives talk therapy, medication and access to a peer specialist. The client's family is provided counseling as well.

"We have goals beyond the mental health realm," said Demarais. She wants clients to continue their professional and personal lives, two things that can deteriorate if schizophrenia goes untreated. 

Davis' other guest, Christi Furnas, spent much of her mid-20s trying to figure out what treatments would work for her schizophrenia. Furnas is an artist who is creating a graphic novel about her experiences. 

A study released in 2015 found that people with schizophrenia who started a multidisciplinary approach early in their treatment fared better over time than subjects who treated their schizophrenia with drugs alone. 

"When I started realizing what's going on I asked a nurse, 'Does this ever go away?' She said, 'It gets more manageable,'" said Furnas. "That was disheartening at the time."

Furnas said that finding the right doctors — a psychiatrist, a therapist and a general practitioner — helped her stay in recovery.  

"Most days I'm at 90 percent," she said. Furnas also works as a peer specialist at Avivo, an organization that provides support for people with mental illness.

"The joys are helping people who are in a spot that I have been in," she said.

This reporting is part of Call To Mind, MPR | APM's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health.

Use the audio player above to listen to the conversation.