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- by  Marty Fugate
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New College alum Carlos A. Larrauri ’08

Schizophrenia. The word itself is fearful; the reality is fearfully misunderstood. Carlos A. Larrauri ’08 is fighting to change that.

He is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a mental health advocate from Miami. His knowledge isn’t only theoretical. Larrauri received a diagnosis of adult-onset schizophrenia during his thesis year at New College.

“I was a humanities major,” Larrauri said. “That reflected my stronger skillsets: writing and communications.”

He notes that religion became an increasing preoccupation. He studied the Torah, the Koran and the New Testament. His interest was more obsessive than scholarly. He was fascinated with the Messiah. At times, he wondered if he was the Messiah. Delusional thinking alternated with lucidity. There was no sudden break with reality.

“Psychosis is insidious and gradual,” he said. “You don’t just snap one day. It’s more like a fog slowly settling in.”

The mental fog crept in. Larrauri didn’t notice. But an old friend did.

“I had no formal intervention,” he said. “A friend I’d known was also studying at New College. She called my mom and said, ‘Carlos’ behavior is off. This isn’t just substance use or stress. I’ve known Carlos for years, and I know something’s fundamentally wrong. You need to talk to him.’”

His mother immediately did—on the phone. And Carlos repeated his friend’s observations. It was hard to hear. But Larrauri wasn’t defensive. He knew his friend was right.

“I had a rare insight,” he said. “I realized something was wrong.”

His mother arrived on campus the next day and they met with Larrauri’s academic adviser. Larrauri put his academic career on hold and returned home to Miami. Thanks to his mother’s bulldog determination, they began a tireless search for the right kind of care.

“We went through about half a dozen mental health professionals until we met up with some amazing researchers and physicians at the University of Miami,” Larrauri said. “Mom and I like to call them ‘The Dream Team.’”

Thanks to this “Dream Team,” Larrauri received a diagnosis of adult-onset schizophrenia and a prescription. His doctor also had good news. If he stayed on his medication and kept working toward recovery, he could complete his studies and graduate. Larrauri did just that. But he doesn’t boast about it.

“I’ve had a great recovery,” he said. “But I don’t credit my strength of will or character. I credit the network of people who helped me. Recovery means more than controlling symptoms with medications. It’s finding a connection to the community. I had my family support and a sense of community through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). That’s how I got through it.”

According to Larrauri, the pieces for his recovery were all in place. Thanks to early intervention, health insurance and community services, he got through his mental health crisis.

“But for all that, where would I be?,” he said. “I didn’t see a cop car or wind up in a psychiatric crisis unit. If I had, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you.”

Larrauri considered himself lucky. He thought about the countless people with mental illnesses who lacked his resources—and he decided to pursue a career in mental health to create the change he wanted to see in this world.

“I wanted to give back,” he said. “I’d received the help I needed. I felt a responsibility to pay it forward and help others like me.”

After graduating from New College, Larrauri went on to earn a master’s of science degree in nursing at the University of Miami. Professionally, he is now a mental health clinician whose work revolves around providing care for people with psychosocial disabilities and serious mental illnesses. He also helps them navigate America’s broken mental health system. As a mental health advocate, he pushes for ways to fix that system. He also has a clear prescription for people enduring a crisis of mind.

“Own what’s happening to you,” he said. “And don’t try to deal with it all on your own.”

Larrauri notes a cruel irony. People with mental illnesses heal through human connection. But isolation and marginalization are often what they get. His advice? Seek out peer support, ideally from those who share your lived experience.

“My one sound bite would be ‘Get connected to NAMI,’” Larrauri said. “I don’t say that because I’m on the board and have a bias. I’m saying it because it was critical to my recovery.”

He also has advice for colleges and universities to improve their mental health services, especially for students in crisis.

“Here again, I’m a big fan of peer support,” he said. “Embedding peer resources on campus would make a huge difference. I also advocate for mental health first-aid training for teachers and resident assistants—just a basic two-hour course. You learn the warning signs for a mental health crisis—like if a student is starting to crash and burn academically, if their hygiene is declining or if they’re up all hours. If you see these red flags in a student’s life, use the resources in your community and the college to help them.”

That’s one small change with a major impact. Larrauri wants to see big changes. Until then, he advocates for baby steps. It’s a lot of hard work. Does he see his undergraduate studies in literature and philosophy as a waste of time? No way. Larrauri says he continually draws on his New College training in the humanities.

“My work as an advocate demands both oral and written communication,” he said. “The New College system honed in on those skills. I know how to make a good argument, and that’s been invaluable.”

Inarguably so. And Larrauri wants to take it to the next level. That’s why he is studying for a legal doctorate at the University of Michigan Law School and concurrently studying for a master’s in public administration degree at the Harvard Kennedy School as a Zuckerman Fellow.

“I’m immersing myself in legal and policy education so I can weaponize my oral and writing abilities to advocate for this population,” he said. “When I’m armed with those legal and policy tools, I can hopefully make an impact on a broader scale.”

For Larrauri, making an impact is a full-time job, and a demanding one. He meets its demands with his studies, advocacy and professional work. You wouldn’t think he’d have any time left. But he does. And he spends that time making music.

He is in a two-person band called FogDog. His bandmate, Matthew Racher, shares his lived experience. So, what the heck is a Fogdog? Larrauri happily supplies a definition.

“It’s the light that shines through a breaking fog,” he said. “Mental health literature often refers to the ‘fog’ of depression or psychosis. We hope our music and storytelling can serve as a source of light and hope to people going through that fog. We want to be a light in the darkness.”

Learn more about Larrauri’s work and music at carloslarrauri.com and fogdogmusic.net.

Marty Fugate is a contributing writer for the Office of Communications & Marketing.