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.