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New Jersey woman recounts schizophrenia misdiagnosis

A recent article profiling the story of one New Jersey woman explains why individuals with the mental disorder of schizophrenia can experience symptoms which severely interfere with work duties, relationships and daily routines.

At 24 years old, the woman recalls she was working as a young professional and enjoying a fast-paced, urban lifestyle. Then one day, without warning, she started having hallucinations, seizures, personality quirks, and even psychosis. The woman claims that her tongue twisted when she spoke, that she drooled, and that she had antisocial behaviors. To make matters worse, she was misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia. Finally, a biopsy revealed she had anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis, a type of brain inflammation.

Yet in this case, the woman's auto-immune disease produced symptoms almost identical to that of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia, caused by biochemical changes in the prefrontal cortex, disrupts the functions controlled by that area of the brain: language skills, abstract thinking and social behavior. For that reason, many schizophrenics experience symptoms of auditory hallucinations, hearing voices, delusions, paranoia, and disordered cognitive behaviors.

The woman wonders how many other workers in New Jersey and across the country diagnosed with schizophrenia might instead be suffering from inflammatory conditions of the brain. Neurologists and psychiatrists are only beginning to understand the complex processes which might contribute to mental disorders.

Fortunately, more success has been made in treating schizophrenia, particularly medicated treatment. The National Advisory Mental Health Council reports that about three-quarters of schizophrenic patients improve after 10 years. In 25 percent of those cases, patients recovered completely.

With proper treatment, New Jersey workers suffering from schizophrenia may eventually be able to return to work. In severe cases, however, the disease may substantially disrupt a patient's cognitive ability, making work impossible. In such cases, Social Security disability benefits may be available. An attorney will know what evidence will be required by the Social Security Administration to prove a SSDI claim based on a mental disorder.

Source: The Guardian, "Susannah Cahalan: 'What I remember most vividly are the fear and anger,'" Carole Cadwalladr, Jan. 13, 2013

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