With Few Advocates, Schizophrenics Continue to Suffer in the Shadows

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 31, 2008 | Go to article overview
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With Few Advocates, Schizophrenics Continue to Suffer in the Shadows


Byline: The Register-Guard

Small, focused acts of practical compassion.

That's what made the difference for Suzanne Fontana in the final years of her life. Homeless, delusional, dirty and cold, she showed up under a large cedar tree in Majeska Seese-Green's yard one night in 2003, babbling nonsensically.

"She was just this tiny little thing, and she demanded to know who I was, as though she was protecting my house from intruders," Seese-Green recalled.

Instead of shooing her away, Seese-Green, a community activist in the Whiteaker neighborhood, offered Fontana a small tent to shelter her from the weather, and during the following months, helped her reapply for critical social services she'd lost - including medical care essential for controlling her schizophrenia - and once she was mentally stabilized, even engaged her in community volunteerism.

It was a big turnaround. Few in Fontana's condition are so lucky.

Estimates vary, but some 25 to 50 percent of schizophrenics are said to be homeless, and the World Health Organization says 20 percent of the chronically homeless are schizophrenic. Because of their cognitive scrambling, social dysfunction and paranoia, without direct help, most are unable to even get themselves into the "safety net" for medical help or other services.

In the absence of real care, many schizophrenics self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and turn to inappropriate, even dangerous, sources for help, often becoming victims of violent crime and exploitation.

Social psychologists say that the only way to reach these afflicted souls is through proactive outreach and individual acts of compassion like Seese-Green's intervention for Fontana.

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