Tag Archive: mental illness


By now the world knows that Robin Williams suffered bi-polar disease, formerly called manic-depression. Mental illness is a neurological disorder. The disease takes a terrible toll on the sufferers, and on those around them. For those of us who do not have it, we cannot grasp fully what it is like.

 For decades, I have known that this actor, and many other celebrities, suffer from bi-polar or other mental illnesses. Whenever I saw him in a movie or in an interview, I marveled at how he could carry on so courageously while he felt so terrible inside. At the same time, I wished that Robin Williams, and all others with mental illness could get adequate help. While he likely was not suffering every minute, he demonstrated many times when he was obsessively funny, even when it was unnecessary. I witnessed the mask of smiles when they were driven by pain.

 So beloved, Robin Williams’ untimely death has deeply grieved the nation. A gift to the world, he used his talent tirelessly and generously for the benefit of others. Meanwhile, he was battling internal challenges much of the time.

 In the midst of national sadness, will we collectively forget about the disease that killed him? Or will we inquire into what can be done to help others that face the same challenges?

If Robin Williams’ desperate cry for freedom from his pain sets off a national dialogue about bi-polar disorder and other neurological problems, his death will make a difference.  He represents millions of people whose neurological diseases plague people throughout the world.

Obviously, if a rich and famous person can suffer so much without proper help, think how difficult it is for the millions of not-so-rich-and-famous to get through life.  Part of the reason that this disease is under-funded and under-valued is that we do not have the collective will to even deal with mental illness.

Each of us needs to be honest with ourselves to see where we are stuck in this mindset that the problem of mental illness is in other people, on the streets, in homeless shelters.  We think the problem is always away from us.  Besides, we think the problem of mental illness cannot be here in front of us, not in our family, not in our neighborhood. We do not see it, or hear it. And if we do see or hear it, we blame the one who suffers. “They should do better.”  “They are losers.” “They are stupid or lazy,” we think to ourselves. “They” are not like us, we want to think. Yet, “they” are us. “They” are us with a brain disorder that they cannot control. And they very often cannot get adequate medical help, as someone with heart disease would expect. Too often sufferers blame themselves for their disorder.

As a society, we have a stigma attached to mental illness. Let’s be honest, it is considered shameful. This stigma remains even though many celebrities have shared their struggles, like Catherine Zeta Jones, Jim Carrey, Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke, Drew Carey, Dick Clark, and hundreds of others.  We do not know what more they would be capable of if they did not have to deal with a neurological disorder.  It is amazing what some people manage to do despite the struggle.

To continue, go to: http://mentallyillparents.com/index.php/2014/08/14/robin-williams-part-2

 

To introduce my soon-to-be-published book: Breaking Through Concrete: The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents, I am posting the Introduction here. This is a sneak peek. After you read it, I would love to know what you would want to see in this book.

INTRODUCTION

FIRST, THE CONCRETE
My parents were my concrete. The emotional concrete had set in before I knew it. Growing up, it seemed solid and impossible to break through.

This concrete story is about the hard reality – the details of living with a disorganized schizophrenic, bi-polar mother and a depressed, closet alcoholic father. My experiences can give you glimpses into the hidden world of mental illness in a family.

Throughout my life, neither my mother nor my father approved of anything that I accomplished, not my graduations, my accolades, my choices, or my husband. At every stage of life, I felt unacceptable to them. Looking elsewhere, I discovered that appreciation and approval could come from others.

There is an undeniable downside to a difficult upbringing. Psychiatrists tell us that human frailties are accentuated in a stress-filled, suppressed, under-protected childhood. After experiencing emotional neglect and abuse, a sense of shame can be intensely difficult to release. This type of upbringing most often results in unrelenting emotional baggage such as low self-esteem, frustration, and insecurities. One can think: “If my mother couldn’t love me, then who could?” That thought lurked in the background for me.

While my mother threatened my life at times, not all mentally ill parents are a danger to their children. Some parents with mental illness could have adequate medicine or behavior modification techniques to control their symptoms. In such cases, the family can be functioning well. The risks to any child are on a case-by-case basis.

In no way do I advocate overlooking the serious damage a child can suffer from living with a disturbed mentally ill parent, or parents. While unattended mental illness is the trigger for bad behavior, undeniable damage can be the result.

There are many highly regarded, accurate studies about children’s wounds at the hands of a mentally ill parent. Though there is truth in this view, it is not the only way to look at this, or any other challenge. If only the pain is perceived, the problems are emphasized and nothing else is observed.

Up until now, I have not read anything of the benefit of experiencing such a childhood. After having experienced the difficulties firsthand, I learned that my experiences with mentally ill parents could eventually reveal to me my power. It took me quite awhile to get to that understanding. No matter what my past, I can view it as a burden, or a benefit.

How could there be a benefit? For one, even a severely mentally ill parent has their moments of kindness or clarity. Those soft, tender moments in a typical mother would be taken in stride, appreciated mildly at best. The same kindness received from a dysfunctional parent produces pure bliss. That moment of kindness can affect a child throughout his or her life. My chapter: Giving and Receiving is one such example.

When demonstrations of love are so rare, it could result in a child giving up and becoming cynical about the world. More often, gratitude is automatically there when a child of a mentally ill parent does receive some symbol of love after long, lean times of nothing.

From the hard times, something valuable can emerge; something that takes up residence in your soul. It settles there because you had to labor so hard to chisel through it. That something might be different for each person.

At some point, I recognized that there is a benefit to taking responsibility for my life. To blame anyone else is to cripple, and limit myself. As a child, I made immature responses that had me experience the solid concrete barriers. As an adult, I have more ability to find the cracks in the concrete. If I only see the limits of the concrete and do not look for the cracks to break through, then I will continue to constrain my life.

The concrete made me who I am in the present. Being “between a rock and hard place,” I found the breaks to push through. It took more than one breakthrough.

All concrete has its weak point. When I was a young adult I saw others unhappy due to their childhood. I knew instinctively that I wanted to be free, and to take charge. Others were banging their head against the proverbial concrete of their life story. Being able to see the confining and punishing part of resisting the past was one of the cracks in the concrete that I grew through.

In disclosing raw details, I am not blaming my parents. They were as much sufferers of their illnesses as their children were of them. My purpose in sharing the inner workings of a household in daily crisis is to speak my truth. Hopefully, my story will help you find your truth.

BLAME VERSUS RESPONSIBILITY

Following the recent loss of several people in the shooting in Tucson, I have heard people blame Jared Loughner’s parents for the shootings. Others say: “He is just no good and he was born that way. He is bad.” At least one well-respected TV commentator called the perpetrator: “ a nut job.”

Some people blame the gun lobby. Everyone has an opinion. Some say he shouldn’t have had a gun that allowed him to shoot more than ten rounds. Ah, I suppose ten people are enough target for one days shooting. Now, who is insane?

Others blame the health care system or the health care workers. Most health care workers need to be commended, and not blamed when things go haywire. Often, tireless and unappreciated mental health care workers strive against all probability to do everything they can.

Does the blame remind you of anything? Does the Virginia Tech shootings come to mind? The exact same arguments came up then.

The leading doctor in the field of schizophrenia, renowned psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey blames state governments. Pointing out that the system is not set up to see all the information on a person who is dangerous to themselves or others, Dr. Torrey said: “Ultimately, it is important to hold state officials responsible for not providing sufficient resources to treat those who suffer from serious mental illnesses. For almost two centuries, it has been an accepted function of state government to protect disabled persons and to protect the public from individuals who are potentially dangerous. State governments have been very effective in emptying the hospitals in an effort to save money but remarkably ineffective in providing treatment for seriously mentally ill individuals living in the community. We have completely failed these people.”

While Dr. Torrey makes a worthy point, I think we all need to look at ourselves, too. Our whole society has lacked the will and the commitment to solve this challenge. We feel helpless and want it hidden from our sight. Our country reflects our common values. How much do we value the mental health of all citizens?

It is said that people with mental illness do not commit more crimes than the rest of us. What if, because we handled it, no one with mental illness would commit a crime due to mental illness? That would cut down on crime enormously. Then we would have mass murder committed only by the sane. By any measure, can mass murder be sane?

This tragedy has been happening several times a year here and in many countries. It’s like the movie: Groundhog Day. We are the characters in the movie that keep forgetting what there is to learn from this. The lesson is that we need to get mentally ill people help, even if we don’t know which ones might ever kill. It seems our policy has been that since we cannot know for sure who will kill, we do not need to help any of them. What if we made sure they all got help? While we’re helping them, we would be helping ourselves. Not only would our world be safer, we would have a healthier, even happier, population of former sufferers of mental illness.

In coming months, when the six dead are long buried and the thirteen people wounded recover, we will likely forget. Could this incident in Tucson have been prevented if we all were interested enough?

While we cannot change what happened, how might we prevent the next tragedy? The next time it could be you. I invite you to join me in asking our congress members: “What programs will be put in place for sufferers of schizophrenia, such as Mr. Loughner? What is the state or federal plan that will prevent the next tragedy?” In case you don’t know your local congress members, here is the list of senators and representatives by state district: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ Please call or write. It is very easy.

If we cannot care enough about the sufferers, then we need to care about ourselves. We live together with the mentally ill, whether we know it or not. We drink the same water and breathe the same air. We see schizophrenics on the street, often homeless. Instead of judging, let us ask ourselves what we can do to make this world work for them, as well as for us. Mental illness is a brain disorder. Mentally ill sufferers are not bad people. Because we do not have a solution to their problems, we wait until some of them do something unacceptable and then we condemn them, often to death. “It is conservatively estimated that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness.” http://www.deathpenalty.org/article.php?id=53 That huge number might be prevented in the future, if we act today.

While improvements can me made in many areas such as the topic of mental health systems, mental health workers, guns and government programs and priorities, I want to focus away from blame and look at responsibility without fault.

Who is responsible for the sick among us?

We have hospitals for the physically ill. Happily, Rep. Gabrielle Gifford is in rehab, possibly for months. Like thousands of others in our country, most wounded people with medical insurance will be rehabilitated for as long as it takes. There’s no such facility for the mentally ill who are pushed out of a mental hospital in a few weeks, or less, no matter what their mental wounds.

While Jared Loughner does not engender sympathy, we have to acknowledge that he, and others like him, did not get help. I am not defending the shooter. I am pointing to the bigger picture. This message is about more than this one incident. It’s about all the past and future incidents exactly like this, except for the location and the victims involved.

Why do we ignore the needs of the most severely disturbed of the mentally ill? There are no visible scars. We pretend these people are normal. Then we judge them morally wrong when their thinking is totally unbalanced. We justify our scorn. It is understandable and normal to abhor the behavior that disrupts the world in any way. We assume that the mentally ill could manage their life better, or at least as well as we do.

Often, even when we know someone’s behavior is caused by serious mental illness, we still want to deride him or her. They are not like us. We tend to think: “Why do they have to act that way? They shouldn’t be like that.”

According to Dr. Torrey, schizophrenia is at least one mental condition that Jared Loughner has. With severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, some behaviors are downright destructive, some highly dangerous, some merely annoying and some seemingly normal. Often, those suffering some mental illnesses can make it difficult for others to endure their company. For that reason, we naturally stay away. Since we never can be inside their disordered brain, we cannot know if we could control our behavior any better.

Our attitudes may block people getting help. Instead of experiencing shame for an illness they did not choose, what if the mentally ill were respected so much that they had no fear of getting help and they had no loss of self-respect? If they received help early their disease would not be as severe. Most mental illnesses can be successfully treated.

As a whole, it appears that our view of those suffering from mental illness is that they are less worthy than the rest of us. We do not consistently mock people with heart disease or cancer. Our first reaction is concern. Could we have concern for the health of a mentally ill person?

To learn more, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a fact sheet that I included at the end.

The consequence of ignoring another’s suffering was huge and painful this time in Tucson, as it was in Virginia Tech. There have been many tragedies throughout our history, both ancient and recent history and all time in between. So, unless our collective intention becomes compassionate toward the mentally ill, this horrible crime will show up again and again. According to Dr. Phil McGraw, it happens about three times a year. When it does not affect us directly, we go back to forgetfulness.

How responsible for their actions is a person with such a neurological disorder? While I grew up with family members with mental illness, I cannot give a definitive answer to that. Each incident and each person is different. I wish our society had such a support system for mentally ill people that no one would have to ask the question of responsibility. As citizens, we have some say in what goes on. To that extent, we are somehow responsible for the way the systems are run, or not run. We are not to blame. There is opportunity in knowing that we have power.

So, who will demand that mentally ill sufferers get help? I hope you will. How responsible for your world, do you want to be? We can go on blaming others for why things are they way they are, or we can take some action. If everyone took one action to heal this problem, the world would change.

For decades, Dr. E. Torrey Fuller has championed the needs of schizophrenics. Alone Dr. Torrey cannot do it all. I call upon you to keep the funding alive without costing you anything but a stamp.
Dr. Torrey frequently tells people who want to help that they should send a thank you note to Ted and Veda Stanley who fund his work. That is probably the #1 thing people can do to help his research: help preserve his funding.
People who want to thank the Stanley’s for funding Fuller’s research can write
TED & VEDA STANLEY
The Stanley Medical Research Institute
5430 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 200
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

If this is too much, please send a Thank You email to the Stanleys about Dr. Torrey’s brain research here: info@stanleyresearch.org

From http://www.schizophrenia.com/newsletter/398/398torrey.htm there are other ways to help:
“Please acknowledge your local mental health experts and doctors. Encourage them to begin participating in the brain research programs so we can find a cure for schizophrenia faster – this is something you can do today that could change the world for the 20 million+ people around the world suffering from schizophrenia. Support this effort today!
My understanding is that the Stanley Foundation and Dr. Torrey are already working with the organizations that can provide them the brains that are prepared in the way they need for their research. However, other research organizations also need brains for further research. One specific organization I recommend is the “Harvard Brain Bank” – for more information
visit their web site. — http://www.schizophrenia.com/newsletter/398/398torrey.htm

INFORMATION ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
From NAMI’s fact sheet, here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:
* Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.
* Mental illness falls along a continuum of severity. Even though mental illness is widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion-about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans-who live with a serious mental illness.
* The National Institute of Mental Health reports that One in four adults-approximately 57.7 million Americans-experience a mental health disorder in a given year
* The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers.
* The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders. By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.
* Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.
* Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
* The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.
* With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.
* Early identification and treatment is of vital importance; By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.
* Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.

So, besides joining me in questioning the plans of senators and representatives, thanking the Stanley Foundation and educating ourselves about mental illness, I invite you to get involved in local chapters of NAMI. Each of us has a contribution to society as a whole to make it work for everyone.

More about blaming:
http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/health/medical/mentalhealth/2011-01-17-parentspsych17_ST_N.htm
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gsLA5AlsiVtTcYUOGn7gQR2b5Pww?docId=CNG.9964072691a62252d0a98b0308fb8063.7d1

To learn more about the Stanley Foundation go to: http://www.stanleyresearch.org/
and http://bipolarnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/bnnvol3iss4.pdf

The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents

In this excerpt, I describe one day with my bi-polar mother and depressed father.

MOTHER’S SELF-EXPRESSION

Weekends were Dad’s days to unwind with his precious radio ball game and copious amounts of beer with chasers. He smoked a lot, too. The kitchen became his station as he stood near the radio, probably so no one else had to hear it any louder than it was. He could be very thoughtful. The real reason may have been that he knew that Mother would not be there in the kitchen.

On one particular day when I was ten years old, Dad bought paint for the kitchen at Mother’s insistence. Not just one color. Mother wanted both pink and white.

Everyone knew Dad did not like to paint. The color pink wasn’t his color, for sure. It is not that he had a color. If he did, it would likely be gray.

With breathing problems, I felt like I could suffocate with the smell of paint. Staying out of the kitchen, I wondered how I would ever survive later in life if I had to paint a room. It was midsummer and the heat was agonizing long before the height of the day. That, in itself, was more than I could take.

It took Dad all day. Dutifully, he painted the opposite walls the same color. Two were pink and two white. To please Mother, he even painted the drawers pink and the cabinets white. By nightfall, he put away the paint cans, brushes and ladder.

The verdict came in. Yes, it was different. And yes, surprisingly it looked crisp and clean. We were impressed. It was 1957 and we had never seen a two-paint combo. This was one crazy idea of Mother’s that wasn’t all bad. Quietly, I told Dad that I liked what he did.

That night watching TV in the living room held no interest. The smell was worse in that part of the house. It was always risky anyway since Mother had a habit of turning it off when it got interesting. With no viable alternatives, I went through the door to the bedroom area. Closing the door to my room off the hall, I tried to sleep very early.

It was ghastly hot, too scorching to go outside. With the smell of paint through the main part of the house, I had more trouble than ever breathing, but that was nothing new. Most nights I sat up all night wishing I could die and just get it all over with. Sitting up as usual, I pondered if this really was my last breath since it was such a struggle both inhaling and exhaling. Amazingly, the struggle just continued as I watched the minutes go by and I accepted the end of it all. I watched the evening light gradually switch to dark. Eventually the need for sleep overtook me and I continued the difficult breathing after exhaustion ruled the night.

In the morning, I was mystified how I made it through the night. I always awoke sleep deprived and usually shocked into consciousness. I was rudely awakened by the sound of loud radio music that my father used to wake us up. One of us, he explained, was hard to awaken, so all of us had to hear this monstrous sound much louder than was necessary to awaken hibernating bears.

We had thirty minutes to get dressed and eat before leaving the house for Sunday Mass. Soon we met in the newly painted kitchen to get ourselves some stale cereal and rancid skim milk.

Mother was there already. Immediately I noticed the painted cabinets and drawers. There were words written in crayon, pencil and pen. Seeing it, I felt deep disappointed. I stopped and looked around. The nice kitchen couldn’t last. I knew it. “But so soon?” I was not prepared. I regretted going to bed early and not enjoying the kitchen while it was new. My face clearly told the story.

Mother glared ready to pounce on me, as if I was the one who had defaced the room. She wanted me to say something, so she could defend herself. My face had already said enough.

Silently, first searching for milk in a moldy refrigerator, and then
cereal, bowl and spoon. They could be anywhere and rarely where you’d expect. Ah, the spoon was in a drawer, and it was clearly used before. I decide to use it anyway since washing it was a problem. The dishrag was filthy. The sink, full of caked-on dirty dishes, smelled.

Finding a bowl was another matter. A bowl could be any room except the kitchen. Bowls would be wherever Mother had a whim to put them. Knowing how clever and creative she was, I wasn’t in the mood. So I took the dirty bowl left on the table. Probably Dad used it because I heard him leaving the kitchen earlier. So I sat down silently with my disappointment.

Seven-year-old brother Eddie came in. “What’s this?” was his instant, innocent inquiry.

“What! Don’t you like it?” Mother shrieked. “This way I’ll know where to find things” she justified.

I wiggled in my seat with this piece of news. “Wow, when did she ever want to know where anything was?” I questioned wordlessly. She had far too much fun playing the ‘lost’ game. I dared not look up, much less say how ridiculous that was, as I kept looking at the anemic and curdled milk in the bowl. I was sure that Mother added water to the skim milk to save money. No one wanted to drink much milk, so it went bad before it was used up.

Twelve-year-old brother Jerry came in. As usual, he searched for a bowl, gave up, and asked me when I’d be finished with mine. He showed not the slightest reaction to the kitchen ‘décor.’

Not a thing surprised him, or he had a good pretense of not noticing and not caring. I marveled at his demeanor. For him, nothing happened before the paint or after Mother’s grafitti. Either nothing mattered to him, or he was smarter than Eddie and me.

Another chapter can be found on http://www.MarifranKorb.com

The Spiritual Journey of Mental Illness
The purpose of this blog is to dispel stereotypes through bringing awareness, respect, compassion and understanding to those who deal with what is known as mental illness in all its forms. Subjects include the gifts in the challenge, the impact in family life, and the perspective of the journey.
Since my earliest days, I have witnessed mental illness in others. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar, my mother was especially unbalanced. My father, a closet alcoholic suffered from symptoms of depression. Then, I married a wonderful man.
Unknowingly to both of us, my beloved Ed had depression.
From my husband, I learned that there are forms of depression that vary from the stereotype.  Ed did not sit quietly in a dark room and weep.  His depression was one that expressed as anger ready to explode for any reason.

Living with mentally ill people gave me keen observation. Direct experience of knowing how it is from the inside is new territory for me. My taste of it is Seasonal Affective Disorder that started a few years ago. For me, it is a disorder. Even with a Vitamin D3 supplement, I am not immune to a dreary thoughts and feelings from early December through March. Taking responsibility for my chemical imbalance during those months, I take a natural OTC supplement that helps me.