They were a happy family with a gifted daughter, but by the time she reached the higher grades, there were signs that everything was not quite as it seemed. She stopped worrying about her appearance, refused to attend a summer camp even though she had gone happily every year previously. She spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom and had trouble sleeping. This girl had been a popular, social child but now, she no longer wanted to spend time with her friends and her grades went down. When friends called, she seldom agreed to talk to them. One day, she told her parents tearfully that she was hearing voices and that somebody was out to get her. Her parents, who are friends of mine, told me later that they felt as though a bomb had been dropped onto their family. They made an appointment to see a psychiatrist.
That was the beginning. They also made a point of speaking to the school counselor to find out whether any of their daughter’s teachers or fellow students had noticed changes in her behavior. They also make a point of asking her friends whether they had been aware of changes and if so, which of her behaviors seemed the most serious. Did they ever think of speaking to her parents or didn’t they know how to approach this difficult subject. Did they wonder how her family must have felt? Did they think that going to a psychiatrist would help? Did they think that anybody was to blame – their friend’s parents, or even themselves? In retrospect, they were asked what they thought they could have or should have done – if anything.
A mental illness is not easy to spot and is often mistaken for drug or alcohol abuse and someone suffering from a mental illness often uses these substances to relieve their symptoms. But, if a teacher or a student’s friend is concerned about his/her behavior, it is essential to pass on this information to an adult – any adult.
What we all need to remember at all times is that a mental illness is a physical illness – something in the chemistry or structure of a person’s brain has gone wrong so there is need for compassion to be shown and no need for stigma at all.;