At the support group someone’s daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia and this is what her mother told us; “There were people amongst friends and relatives who actually told my daughter ‘Your life is over,’ OR ‘You can’t possibly amount to anything now, can you?’ OR ‘Now you’ll never find friends as nobody will want to spend time with you. You might as well give up trying.’
These are stigmatizing messages. What a shame that she had to hear this. A professional who was trying to present a reality check might have said so even if it had been a rare slip of his tongue but self-stigma can often come from within. And the media have done a great deal of branding already.
After my son received his diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia, did his psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker tell him about a success story? No.
Did any of them ever tell us about a success story? No.
Did any professional ever show the same empathy that would have been shown if he had been a cancer patient? No.
Did any professional ever put a hand on my arm or an arm about my shoulder and show me some empathy? No. And my son was ill for a period of 16 years.
A man in our support group told us; “My son has schizophrenia but doesn’t like to talk about it. He only shares the fact that he has spent time in a psychiatric hospital with people who are near and dear to him. Why? Because it’s so awful for him when people reply with; “Oh, a mental illness! How terrible. That’s the end of your life, you know.” As a result, he shares it with good friends only. So this young man has become yet another victim of stigma.
This father continued bravely; “And at work?” My son spent years feeling totally unemployable. When he became stabilized, the road beyond self-stigma took an awfully long time. He didn’t know what to say when people asked him what he did for a living.
Eventually, a therapist taught him to …
- Consider the source of the negative messages. The person who delivered them might have been unaware of the facts. After all, how many people really understand mental illness?
- To hang onto the positive and to ignore comments like; ‘So you are only a messenger? OR Surely you can do more than just deliver newspapers?
- She taught him to eliminate the word just. She taught him to think differently and say; ‘I am a messenger and I earn a great deal of money. OR ‘I deliver newspapers and find it interesting.’
All this takes a lot of patience and perseverance. This young man had to relearn to solve problems instead of only seeing the obstacles that prevented his progress. He was supposed to see strength, potential and have patience.
And all this was so familiar to my husband and I as our son was going through a similar stage at the same time.