Breaking the Deafening Silence

Our firstborn son suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and for 16 years, my husband and I searched for the right medication, for a cure, any cure in our determination to find the  miracle that would quiet the voices he heard in his head. We wanted to share our problem with the school counsellor but our daughters begged us not to do so. They reminded us how very cruel high school students could be with their never-ending jokes about people who were mentally ill. So, after a great deal of deliberation, we decided to respect their feelings but were not happy with the decision.

If teachers are trained to recognise mental illness, so much heartache can be avoided. Children hear about AIDS, drug abuse, smoking and alcohol so why is mental illness left by the wayside?

The stigma associated with mental illness is terrible. Acquaintances crossed the street rather than ask me how my son was doing. I heard whispers like; ‘She’s the one with the mentally ill son,’ or ‘that’s the woman whose son is in a psychiatric hospital. Maybe she’s mentally ill too?’

Stigma is a harsh reality for someone suffering from any mental illness as well as for their families as it prevents them from enjoying happy and productive lives. I repeat what I have written so often:-

Stigma is about disrespect.

Stigma is about the negative use of labels.

Stigma is about discrimination.

Stigma is about social exclusion

My aim is for people to feel comfortable discussing mental health issues. I promised my son that I would work toward getting these people accepted in their communities.

But, in the year 1966, my son, the boy I’d nurtured, supported and loved so much, could no longer bear to hear the voices in his head. He wanted peace of mind. Nobody can live without peace of mind and so, in desperation, he took the onerous decision to give up. He no longer had any hope and every single person needs some hope. My firstborn took his life by suicide,  leaving the rest of us to cope with this impossibly heartbreaking situation.

Unfortunately, no politician has ever gained votes for championing the rights of mentally ill people. In the first book I wrote on the subject, I quoted one of Lily Tomlin on the back cover:

When we talk to G-d, it’s called prayer.

 But, when G-d talks to us, it’s called s c h i z o p h r e n i a.

I knew nothing about schizophrenia. I had never met not heard of a person who suffered from a mental illness during my childhood, but that was not surprising because my parents whispered about cancer in those days.

When my son became ill, I didn’t know that there were other people with the same problem in their families. It took years to come to terms with it. I must have been in denial. I went into the bargaining stage and even though I am not a religious person, I even found myself bargaining with God. I would be the best mother in the world if you cure my son – that kind of thing. Eventually, I had to reach the coping stage because my anger was destroying me and with the aid of two support groups, I managed to do just that.

Mental illness is a long term illness and some psychiatrists even blamed me for causing it which we now know is not so at all.

We consider ourselves to be civilized people so why are mentally ill people still hidden away? Why are they unable to obtain medical insurance? Why are they still not treated as equals? Why do journalists speak about them in derogatory terms? And why don’t heads of state make mental illness research a priority?

time to change lets talk about 2

4 thoughts on “Breaking the Deafening Silence

  1. Maureen Dave Keet

    I feel your pain Jilly, every word is so true wish there was more respect for the patient and his family, and often the family themselves do not understand that it is a disease!
    Love you for the work you do, as it must be so painful living in the wounds all the time.

  2. Kathleen

    Hi Jill, yes the whispers and stigma are alive and growing tho some like to think the stigma is far less than before.
    Here, now as I am in a psychiatric hospital the stigma between patients is there. I felt that being with people with their own struggles but a common link, here their would be acceptance by fellow patients and staff alike.
    Last week in an art therapy group a comment was made by some one when the question about the types of paper cutting tools available. The therapist said there was scissors or another type a blade but she would have to cut the piece not the patient.
    The patient stated ” of course, but those sort of people wouldn’t be allowed in a group like this”.
    I am one of those people and to hear some one judge me, my struggles and my coping behaviours (which I am trying to modify to healthier ones) made me feel that I am lesser than others, I couldn’t breathe. I left the group for a few minutes to try and calm myself.

    To me, I see a hospital full of people all doing the best they can to manage and understand their illness and to learn healthier coping strategies . I could not think let alone pass comment in a therapy group about another person. We should be looking after ourselves not taking on other peoples issues but at the same have empathy, who else is closer to knowing something about how another feels.


  3. lenwilliamscarver

    Jill I read every post but never comment , today I decided I needed to. I don’t know how you cope with the loss because of your son due to the disease or his manner of death., I suppose like all of us that have lost a child eventually get to the point that for our own sanity we must cope. I lost my oldest daughter three years ago to a domestic violence murder and my youngest daughter is bi-polar and from all the research I have done believe she is paranoid schizophernic, although she has only been diagnosed with the Bi-polar. I have not seen my daughter but once right after my oldests service and it tears me up. Anyway the reason after all that is to say to you that you help me with every post it helps me to understand and I appreciate it very much. So a big thank you you help me in ways you will never know. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Having A Parent With A Mental Illness - Parenting And Mental Health

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