I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Anthony today. Anthony was a brilliant Co-op student when I worked at a small University. Although still in his undergrad, Anthony was repeatedly asked to partner with another major University on research projects. He was already published by the time he was in his third year. In addition to his brilliance, Anthony had a refreshing view of the world, his perspective was always unique and very often challenged the status quo. I found that intriguing.
I was fortunate to get to know Anthony a little better after I moved from the Co-op Department to the Foundation office. No longer my student, we would meet at lunch or just in passing, and find ourselves deep in conversation about the universe, thermos-dynamics, nano-particles, etc. As I got to know Anthony better I came to realise that his life was very unstable. He professed to have sleeping issues, trouble concentrating, broken relationships with family members and various other challenges for which he self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana.
It was his sister who told me Anthony had untreated schizophrenia. He had been on medication, but went off and on, as many people will this illness do. I had some previous understanding of the illness, which was helpful. What I didn’t know was Anthony suffered from Anosognosia. Anosognosia, first named by a neurologist in 1914, “is a deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person with some disability seems unaware of its existence.”
Can you imagine living with a chronic disease and not knowing it, or in fact, being in complete denial of it? That was the life Anthony led, a life that is led by a large portion of the 1 in 100 people who suffer from schizophrenia, a chronic neurological illness. Fortunately, this is not true for all those diagnosed. Many people who have the illness are treated with medication, cognitive therapy and other supportive programs, and live fulfilling lives. This was not Anthony’s story.
Anthony’s untreated illness caused him to take his own life. It was a very sad day for all of us, in addition to the research community. His light shone brightly for a very short time.
Research is a very important part of our lives, even though we are not aware of the daily impact on the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, cars we drive and the medical care we receive. It is research, combined with education, which will eventually end the stigma of mental illness, as it has done for AIDS and Cancer. It is research that will unravel the complex neurological disorder called schizophrenia.
I am very proud to have been involved in research projects, either as a participant, a researcher or a funder of research. I am pleased Valley Regional Hospital Foundation is funding research projects which impact the determinants to health thus reducing the strain on an already stressed medical system. Next time you visit the hospital, give a thought of gratitude for those brilliant researchers (who may live with their own medical challenges) whose work positively impacts our lives every single day.