In the past month I’ve learned so much about schizophrenia. It’s become an almost obsession, to figure out it’s idiosyncrasies, in an attempt to stay ahead of it. Elliott my eldest who has now been officially diagnosed as schizophrenic has begun to respond to his newly prescribed antipsychotic medication. The suicidal urges have started to weaken and he has found a new sort of control over them, one I cautiously celebrate. The suicide rate for schizophrenics is roughly 13%, whereas the general population has a 0.01% suicide rate. In fact it is the leading cause of death for schizophrenics. The voices have started to quiet as well and the other hallucinations have began to disappear along with the future that I once envisioned for my son.
We now embark on a lifetime journey of living with this chronic mental illness.
His path has now changed, shifted course in an unexpected way, and I somewhat mourn this fact unsure of what the future holds. Is it wise for him to father children? He always wanted to travel outside the United States is that even safe now? How well will he be able to function in everyday life? What happens if I were to die? How will he fall on the spectrum of symptoms, treatments, and functioning abilities?
Im saddened as I read statistic after statistic that reaffirms that the United States fails miserably to help the Seriously Mentally Ill amongst its masses. 50% of schizophrenics will be incarcerated at one point in life. They are also twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement. In states such as Florida a schizophrenic is 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized. In West Virginia where I live there are 16,000 schizophrenics and only 260 hospital beds state wide equipped to aid them in treatment. It is believed that 2/3 of the homeless in America are mentally ill and a vast majority of these suffer from schizophrenia.
I learned that 50 years ago when the government shut down state run mental facilities the jails soon absorbed the mentally ill. My own son was pepper sprayed and placed in a straight jacket while incarcerated because he tried to harm himself and this treatment is semi par for the course. These places do the best with what they have, but jails were never designed to act as psychiatric hospitals. It is cruel and unusual punishment to take a mentally ill person who is suicidal and cut them off from family and friends and place them on lockdown for 24 hours a day. My son is lucky though, he at least gets his medication and sees a doctor. In more rural poorer communities jails can’t afford the medication therefore inmates don’t receive any.
I’ve now made friends with a variety of mothers, one in particular has touched my heart deeply, her name is Pamela Wooden. Her son Christopher was shot by the police 4 times while in a state of psychosis after the family had called for help because Christopher was being suicidal. Christopher is not alone, we need more Crisis Intervention Teams on all law enforcement levels. Christopher was ill, he needed help, and his death is a tragic reminder of how we are failing a very vulnerable demographic group in our society. They can’t protect themselves, so we as clear thinking care givers must change this system to better serve their needs.
If you love someone with schizophrenia you will face many different road bumps along the way. They can consist of many sleepless nights, hospitalizations and even incarceration’s. You will have to make a commitment to take care of yourself as well, you will need to fill up your own cup before you can help others. I’ve learned it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to be mad, it’s ok to pause and catch your breath but above all it’s ok to love someone with schizophrenia just like you did before they became ill. They depend on you to stay strong and think clearly to help them make good decisions that result in wellness for them. It’s not a shameful thing, it’s just an illness that can be treated and managed with medication and doctors. I’ve learned it’s a day by day walk, there are ups and downs, steps forward and steps backward.
But as long as there is love there is hope.
Places To Get Help & Support For Free
I’ve connected with NAMI which has created a very strong nationwide support system of all kinds of resources. They truly are dedicated to advocating a better future for the mentally ill here in America. I urge you to join forces with them. They have free books, referrals to lawyers, your state level civil liberties unions, support groups and all sorts of educational material for all varieties of mental illness. https://www.nami.org/
Another resource that anyone who is caring for a mentally ill loved one can benefit from is the Mental Health First Aid Course. This free 8 hour class teaches you the fundamentals of dealing with a loved one should you find yourself in a crisis such as psychosis. It also teaches you to assess suicide risks in your loved one. It has really great information on mental illness — how mental illness compares to physical illness, perceptions & stigmas of mental illness, what mental disorders are, the different types of disorders, how to better understand what someone who suffers a disorder experiences, how to compassionately approach & communicate with someone who is suffering, how to assess for suicide risk, how to respectfully guide someone to get help, what the different types of help are. And the really great part is it is a nationwide program that is provided free of charge in most areas. You can find one close to you via a simple search and can register online now!