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WTMJ Radio Interviews Dr. Varma About Schizophrenia and Medications:

MILWAUKEE - In recent days, the issue of schizophrenia has come to the limelight with the murder case involving a 17-year-old boy from Fox Point and his grandfather, a real estate executive who he allegedly murdered.

Richard Wilson, 17, faces accusations of killing his grandfather, Ronald Siepmann, with an axe.

Officials say Wilson's schizophrenia likely played a role.

Most people, though, don't understand the condition.

What exactly is schizophrenia?

The National Institute of Health web site defines it as "a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations."

Psychiatrist Shalini Varma of Wheaton Franciscan St. Joseph's Hospital in Milwaukee helped define it even more on Newsradio 620 WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News."

"It's a pretty severe mental illness that, if treated early on, can result in relatively good outcomes rather than someone having symptoms for a long time," said Dr. Varma.

That early-on treatment can mean trying to get to it during childhood and teenage years, but Dr. Varma warns of the challenge of trying to figure out whether a child has it.

"It's a very different presentation in children and adolescents versus adults," she explained.

"I do know that it's kind of difficult to tell in teenagers sometimes, because their mood episodes can be so severe just because they're teenagers.  Some kids can be very withdrawn, easily angered and suspicious regardless of having schizophrenia.

If they're treated early on, they may not progress to symptoms where other people can see, things which are more like seeing, hearing things that aren't there, confusing realities, having bizarre thoughts, severe anxiety, paranoia."

What causes the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Dr. Varma explains that causes can come from behavior, or are passed down between generations.

"Some symptoms can come on due to marijuana use or alcohol abuse, some come from genetic factors, and some are not even due to any of those factors," said Dr. Varma.

How do you treat it?

To Dr. Varma, it's a multi-pronged approach.

"It depends on how long you may have schizophrenia or what the prognosis can be," Dr. Varma told us.

"There are medications. Medications aren't the only things that can help, but you definitely need medications.  Family therapy, support therapy, individual therapy, any of those things can help people with any mental illness, including schizophrenia."

But according to Dr. Varma, it's also important to surround someone in that situation with a loving, caring, insightful presence that may need to be aware of the signs, because the person suffering from it might not have that awareness.

"It's very good with any sort of mental illness to have a good support system," she said.

"Many mentally ill people, especially when they're not taking their medications or when they're having side effects, they themselves are having impaired insight into their own illness. Whether it be a spouse or family members, it really helps if they keep in touch with their psychiatrist or with a child and adolescent psychiatrist, to help treat the patient. A psychiatrist can also help tell the family if they need to go to the emergency room, if police need to be called, can help sort out why the patient is not taking the medication and can put them on another medication."

Such a medication doesn't necessarily have to be one you take every day.

"There are some newer medications for schizophrenia, for bi-polar disorder, that are long-acting medications. These are obviously ideal for patients to stay on their medication by getting this medication every month."


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