Discussing an unspeakable truth

My mother has never admitted her mental illness to me, yet the evidence of it is undeniable. It would have made my journey (and hers) easier if she could have discussed her schizophrenia with the ease she discusses her more physical ailments.

Writing has been cathartic during my road to acceptance and finding a new happiness (documented in my poetry book to be released by Peaceful Daily in January 2015!).

There is a larger issue here than my experience. In a sense, we all bear responsibility as a culture (or cultures) for the inability to discuss mental illness. Words like crazy, insane, psycho, schizo, neurotic, mad, nuts, and lunatic are derogatory terms in English. They demonstrate xenophobia towards ailments that affect the mind. While the loathsome words that begin with N and R have thankfully fallen out of use, derogatory terms for mental illness remain a culturally acceptable part of our casual vocabulary.

The ability to talk about my mother’s mental illness openly may not have changed the course of history in my case, but nothing can improve if we cannot name it first, and we cannot openly name things that are highly stigmatized and casually denigrated.

I try to do my small part and talk about my mother’s schizophrenia openly in hopes that my openness will encourage others to be open about mental illness as they experience it in their life and the lives of their loved ones.

According to the U.S. National Institute for Medical Health (NIMH), 20% (1 in 5) Americans have a mental illness. Basically, every family has a mentally ill member. Schizophrenia is found in 1% of the general population.

So, where are they? Where are the 3 million people living with schizophrenia in America? Where are the 30 million mentally ill?

Are they hiding in isolation? Are they hiding in families? Are they your work colleagues? Your neighbor, afraid that something they feel is shameful will be discovered? Can’t we accept these members of the human family so that those who need help can more easily access it, without stigma? As we have unfortunately discovered time and again, that which is kept in the darkness finds its way into the light.

The way to begin healing is to discuss the unspeakable. Here, I’ll start.

4 thoughts on “Discussing an unspeakable truth

  1. An excellent start! I hope we can all work with you toward the day when it is as easy to discuss a mental illness as it is a bout of the flu, or even a menstruation, let’s say – since these things are not pleasant, but do occur naturally. Not talking about them doesn’t change them or reduce them, but perhaps openly discussion them and moving toward some kind of solutions or at least help can do something to progress our culture into the truly successful.

    1. My thoughts exactly! Perhaps reducing the stigma will be one less barrier to treatment and and the cultural support of families. Many people literally recoil when I mention, in context, that my mother has schizophrenia. It’s no wonder that we don’t know who they are.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story Kat – mental illness is a difficult subject for so many including myself. I’ve been affected by this terrible disease and I’ve learned it’s best to confront it head on. We need to discuss and learn and solve. Again, thank you.

    1. Thank you for sharing, John! Doesn’t it seem fundamentally silly for us as a society to feel that an ailment – any ailment – shouldn’t be discussed and will somehow resolve itself?

      Your openness and my openness will help others feel it’s safe to be open. With the prevalence as it is, we will one day realize it’s a “me too” phenomenon. I think every family has been touched by this in some way. Hugs to you – I treasure our friendship!

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