The interview for PBS in Phoenix, AZ last Thursday began with this wide-open question:
Who is Ben?
How to answer? Well -
He’s my son.
He is a sweet, loving, bright, caring, 29-year-old.
And – he has paranoid schizophrenia.
Very importantly, he is being treated for schizophrenia.
Here’s how I answered this question, and the thought-provoking ones that followed, in this PBS interview on Arizona Horizon with Ted Simons.
In the same state where Jared Lee Loughner just lost his third appeal over forced medications, this is a very important distinction. My son, Ben, is in treatment. Loughner, who killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others in nearby Tucson just over a year ago, did so as a person whose schizophrenia had gone untreated for too long – and with disastrous results.
Here, in the state of Arizona where many still seem in a state of emotional disbelief over what happened in Tucson, the consequences of inadequate care and services for those suffering with mental illness seems even more obvious – and undeniably important.
In three days, I have made the rounds, courtesy of the Arizona Foundation for Behavioral Health (AFBH) and ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, speaking in a community lecture, two media interviews, and meetings with NAMI as well as university students and educators in the field.
It has been a whirlwind – and I have met so many wonderful people who care about the issues that can make a difference for all of us affected by mental illness: people who have been diagnosed, those who love them, and the community they live in.
I have but one story to tell with full accuracy – our own – but I have heard many more in these few days. I hold tight to the belief that, one story at a time, shared without shame and empowered by education and courage, we can all make a difference in the way services for those with mental illness are funded, and to the laws that need to be passed to increase research, provide resources, and restore dignity and health to those who have been let down by the system that used to help them live a useful, dignified life.