AT 20, RIDWA
N TAHSEEN was struggling in his life and wasn’t sure why. Devastated by the breakup of a relationship, he began cutting himself. He feared that people in crowds were staring at him and meant to harm him. His university grades dropped precipitously and he was in danger of being suspended. In a feature story in The Globe and Mail this spring, Ridwan recounted how a spur-of-the-moment decision to reveal the extent of his disturbance to a school counsellor led to his seeking help at CAMH.
Ridwan came to CAMH’s prime (Prevention through Risk Identification, Management and Education) Clinic, where clinicians saw early signs of schizophrenia and worked with him to develop a care program to forestall the onset of this disorder or at least minimize its lasting impact. About 200 people visit CAMH’s First Episode Psychosis Clinic each year, all challenged by the fact that many early warning signs are the same as those associated with the turmoil of normal young adulthood. And of course paranoia itself can prevent people seeking treatment.
PRIME is at the forefront of developing better preventative care for young people with early signs of severe mental illness. Clients such as Ridwan receive psychological help to address issues such as depression, but the approach widens to focus on social factors as well. “You can’t tell everything to close friends or family because they won’t understand it, and that’s why CAMH is there and makes you feel like they really want to help you,” says Ridwan.
Ridwan, now 22, is feeling more positive these days. He’s out of academic probation and attending school, taking four courses as opposed to the two he was taking previously. He’s working and playing soccer, and with his visits to the psychiatrist down to one per month, he feels confident that he will not develop schizophrenia. “I feel positive, and my goals are being accomplished as I target them,” he says.
PRIME Clinic Director Dr. Jean Addington collaborates with researchers at other clinics in Canada and the United States to refi ne our understanding of the warning signs in young people who may be on track to develop schizophrenia. Other CAMH researchers profiled below are also breaking ground on schizophrenia by increasing our understanding of the disease and minimizing the side-effects of antipsychotic medications.