As various family members spoke at the support group about their experiences of living with a mental illness, I discovered that we had all been through similar experiences with professionals both in the hospital and out. At last, I had found a place where I could talk to someone who understood what I was feeling; people who really understood because they had been there. I think that the seed to start a self-help support group were sown then. I heard about people who had managed to come to terms with their loved ones’ illness and about others who blundered along, exhausted and afraid, waiting for miracles, always on the verge of tears or a depression. My late husband was one of the four or five men present.
‘Where are your husbands he asked? The marriage vows in sickness and in health mean that one must be there to support one’s wife, but also any children the couple might have, whether they are ill or not.’
Yes, husbands need to share the burden. Each of us mourned a young person whose life had changed drastically. Shock, loss, grief, fear, confusion ambivalence, guilt, helplessness, despair and sadness were common reactions.
‘I can’t handle the stigma and discrimination,’ I wailed. ‘You all know that mental illness attracts less empathy and far more discrimination than other illnesses.’ I had come to hate the words crazy, schizo, nuts, wacko and demented, the terms that only served to keep the stigma going.
I knew that the act of reducing stigma required widespread community education as well as the willingness to challenge others when discrimination occurred in my presence. I knew that journalists needed access to accurate up to date information to ensure that their reporting would not unintentionally reinforce negative stereotypes. But, journalists all over the world, use terms that serve to perpetuate the awful stigma associated with mental illness.