June 21, 2005

Stigma, Schizophrenia, & Family

Read more... Schizophrenia Coping

Family envisions 'no shame, no blame'

Eight years after showing signs, the Willett's son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Since then, both Mr. and Mrs. Willett "have immersed themselves in the subject." They became involved in several mental health organizations including "the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Parent/Professional Advocacy League. They served on boards and panels sponsored by those groups and others. They read anything they could find that would help explain what had happened to their oldest son, Michael, and why."

As a result of this deep involvement, the Willett's now have ideas on how to change the mental health system. Mrs. Willett who addresses the problem of stigma associated with mental disorder "believe(s) that the answer...might be found in a town in Belgium called Geel."

"People take in the mentally ill as family members and treat them as equals," she said of the community. "The whole town knows they are there and is quite comfortable with their presence. There is no shame, no blame, no frustration with their differences and perceptions. I think how our culture would differ if we believed truly in the value of the individual with the mental illness as a person instead of a case or as a slot to be filled," Mrs. Willett added. Geel, she said, is a "portrait of what life could be like for people - acceptance, care, social interactions, familial settings. It is not therapeutic in the traditional sense, but in the deeper sense of belonging."

Mr. Willett addresses the country's mental health care system. He spends much of his time explaining that "the teen-agers and young adults suffering mental illness (should) specify what the various state Department of Mental Health and its contracted agencies should be providing in the form of services and programs." He also believes that the "parents of younger children should be utilized as full partners in their treatment."

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I live in Dalton Georgia, bastion of the Christian Baptist Right, 90 miles north of Atlanta and 30 miles south of Chattanooga. I have a very good friend who I had known for several years before I decided she might be suffering from schizophrenia herself as I do. I got her into the mental health system and an appointment with my own doctor who, at the time, I had been seeing for over 20 years for my prolixin treatments. He diagnosed her as schizoid affective. Over the last three or four years she has progressed through two other doctors and her diagnosis is firmly pinned down as not only schizoid affective, but also manic depressive. So she is a manic psychotic, and now saner than she has ever been in her whole life thanks to these doctors and proper treatment. Still, she will never be totally normal, anymore than I suppose I will be, or any of us who belong to the exclusive club of the mentally ill.
Her right wing Baptist mother spent years trying to exorcise her demons with Holy water and sending her to right wing "psychiatrists", and I use the term laughingly, who tried to exorcise her demons. Since her mother's death three years ago the rest of her family has abandoned her completely. I kept her going for the two years it took to get turned down for her disability, and get a lawyer to win it for her. The whole Social Security, disability system in America these days is a big racket. They auto turn down everyone, which takes four to six months, then it takes another year or more to win your case after you get the lawyer to do so for you.
I read on this site of care and concern from familys of people with mental illness, but it is another world compared to right wing Dalton Georgia and the world of the Christian right. They are way too ignorant to ever understand any of the wonderful knowledge of mental illness discovered by medical science in the last 40 years or so. They will never learn. They continue to view mental illness as demon possession and ostracize and abandon members of thier own familys afflicted with these diseases as they have done with my friend. I believe this prevalent ignorance and prejudice is the main cause so many of the mentally ill in America simply end up on the street as my friend would have, and still would, if I did not help her as I have and do.
For those of us out there with more intelligent, caring familys, be thankful. These right wingers will never give it up. All my explanation, all my information, all my attempts at reasonably discussing my friends illness with her family have fallen on deaf ears. They could care less about learning anything. She is simply abandoned by them. To think that a mentally ill person is going to be cured by exorcism of their devil is perhaps the stupidest, most inhuman attitude of all, yet here in the nowhere, ignorant, rural south it is an all pervasive attitude, and I see little way of changing this predominant opinion straight from the Dark Ages. It is disgusting.
My friend responds well to her meds, but they are exorbitantly expensive, and she cannot survive on her own with her petty disability check, buy her own meds too, and have food and a place to live. It is the plight of too many on disability in this country. America kills the most helpless amongst us these days, and the mentally ill are just that. At the same time most of this killing is being done by so called "Christians" who support a political party that could care less about the most helpless amongst us, even though Jesus clearly said that what you do to the most helpless amongst you, you do to me.
So be thankful if your parents and family are trying to learn about your mental illness, all my brethren out there, and are trying to be supportive and help you cope. Here in the redneck wilds of north georgia they would just try to exorcise you, and then write you off and throw you on the street. That is the norm.

Posted by: Gilthoron at June 26, 2005 03:37 PM

Thank you for all the information. It helps me to deal with my 29 year old son, who is diagnosed Parnoid Schiozophrenia. It is a very hard job taking care of a mentally ill patient. But I will do whaterver it takes to take care of him. People are always making comments about him. It makes me very angry to think that people would make fun of someone who is sick. Sincerly Robin Newman

Posted by: Robin Newman at November 7, 2005 03:42 PM

I disagree strongly that the commenter's notion that the "Christian right" does not care for nor support people with mental illness. Yes, there is a problem with lack of knowledge but you have to remember that it was not too many years ago that even the non-religious believed the Freudian notion that schizophrenia was caused by "smothereing mothereing."

Do a Google on Christianity and mental illness and you'll find plenty of good articles. Consider also how many religiously supported medical schools and hospitals -- like Baylor -- are doing great work in researching cures and in helping patients with all kinds of mental illnesses.

I'm sorry that you've had bad experiences, but I would even go so far to argue that it is conservative Christians who are responsible for the bulk of progress in recent years. We certainly haven't seen any support from the anti-religious left. Groups like Planned Parenthood refuse to recognize the unborn as human, argue that those with mental disabilities have lives that are worth less than those with non-disabilities, and refuse to recognize the mental anguish caused by abortion.

It's a shame about your bad experiences, either real or perceived, but I believe that you are unfairly casting blame on people of faith.

Posted by: Stingray at March 3, 2006 12:47 PM

I have to protest about the gross generalization regarding Christians and mental illness.I am a committed Christian, one that some might perceive as "right winged" etc. but I am also a parent of a mentally ill 25 year old son with schizo-affective disorder. While many Christians are simliar to those you described, i.e., attributing mental illness to demons, many of us do not - and by the way , I live in SC so it is similiar to GA in many ways. The whole exorcism abuse is due to those Christians who actually have combined the "wonderful" teachings of modern day psychology and our culture's need for a quick fix with whatever "teachings" they can pull out of context from the Bible. I do condemn the Body of Christ for their treatment of the mentally ill, however. I have personally witnessed how my son and others who suffer with mental illness are "despised and rejected and acquainted with grief" by Christians. I have yet to see a church that reaches out to the mentally ill. The mega churches claim that "HIV positive" people are the lepers of our society and have reached out to them. That's a load of manure. Most people who suffer with HIV have plenty of money as evidenced by their powerful lobbying groups and the millions of dollars in HIV/Aids research. Thus the church has a vested interest in catering to and wooing the potential "giving" target of this group. The TRUE lepers of our culture are the mentally ill - you can't imagine how swiftly people pull their skirts aside in their ignorance. It's especially painful to witness among "christians". But the mentally ill don't have the lobbying power, funding, etc. that HIV groups do. The mentally ill are usually homeless, despised and rejected among men - exactly the people Jesus wants to reach. While some Christian schools and hospitals are doing research etc. it has yet to trickle down among God's people and the Body of Christ. Just show me a church that has a ministry to the mentally ill and their families/caregivers other than deliverance ministry and I'll be less skeptical.

Posted by: Stephanie at May 14, 2006 05:24 AM

i am afraid that they do glorify aids and even cancers and so on,but mental ill health is very looked down upon.if you do have such a disorder it will be very difficult to keep entirely in control without medication and will cause more stress than is copeable in doing so.xanon.(if you are at the stage where you understand where i am at).

Posted by: jill at October 8, 2007 08:42 AM

I really admire the way you approach to tackle this matter which became a global issue . I will be observing your future works and submitting my own views and results of my personal researches

Posted by: sek at October 8, 2007 03:23 PM

As a Christian, and someone who suffers from schizophrenia, I would like to thoroughly recommend 2 publications that address the problems of mental illness. The first is a wonderful and inspiring book called, 'Strength for His People - A Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill', by Dr Steven Waterhouse,(whose brother suffers from schizophrenia), Pastor of Westcliff Bible Church in Amarillo, Texas. (Published by Westcliff Press, 2002. Web Page: webtheology.com; E-Mail: Westcliff@amaonline.com) This book is 125 pages long and has a very informative and extensive Bibliography. If you are "disilluisoned" with Christians and their attitude towards the mentally ill, this book is a great encouragement! The 2nd publication is 42 pages long, and for permission to reprint from the Internet, please contact:- The Michigan District LCMS, 3773 Geddes Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105. 888.225.211. It is called 'Mental Illness Manual' by the Committee on Mental Illness, Michigan District, LCMS, JUne 2006.This paper covers a range of mental illnesses. Lastly, you may have heard of an organisation called GROW. This 12-step, self-help group, was inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous and started in Sydney, Australia in 1957 and is now worldwide. GROW is for anyone who wishes to recover from a breakdown or has a mental health problem such as agoraphobia, anxiety and panic attacks, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, personality disorder. etc. GROW uses its 'Blue Book' during its 2 hour day or evening meetings as well as a Commentary and Anthology. No fees or dues or charged. Unbelievers and believers are most welcome. (Please search the Net for your local Head Office or Group). I attend a GROW group myself and find it a great emotional support. Please pass on this information. Thankyou.

Posted by: Diane at October 12, 2007 04:58 AM

i am living in herentals belgium.This is a town near the
town GEEL . I know a person
from herentals who was and still
is mentally ill (he was born like that ) .But a family over-
there adapted him a long
time ago. And each time when
i see him his face is telling
me that he feels very happy.
He's working at the farm , kee-
ping track of most of all the animals which they have overthere. I remember when i
was young , i saw him in our
street acting like a horse , because he always liked horses very much .At that time he was running down the street like a real horse on hanhds and feets and making the the noice of a horse .
Just wanted to tell you that this small town of Geel is unique in the world and visited by mentally ill people from all over the world .
I studied in Geel at a college and i met of lot ofthose people in the super market , in the cinema ,in the pub and
we had together always a lot of fun . I just wanted to tell you overthere in your big America that you should try this system once upon a time with yr people overthere . I wish you lot of sucess with this .Kind greetings of a small neuighbouroud in a small town in a small country which
people are doing their very best to get the mentally ill people a descent way of life...
Best regards
Willy , friend of the mentally
ill person Willy(same name) who likes horse a lot ....

Posted by: willy at December 3, 2007 01:38 PM

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