Category Archives: mental illness in the media

What if Target’s Sweater Poked “Fun” at Cancer?

What if it said "Christmas cancer. My spending is growing uncontrollably"?
What if it said “Christmas cancer. My spending is growing uncontrollably”?

Is really “just a shirt”?

This week, social media has been abuzz with two “holiday” issues so far: the Starbucks Cup ( and there’s not much left to say) and a sweater still being sold by Target which amusingly ( to their buyers, I suppose) calls O.C.D. “Obsessive Christmas Disorder.”

Mental Health Advocates are up in arms about this “joke”, which not only trivializes a serious and sometimes debilitating condition, but in doing so spreads misunderstanding and stigma. Target is refusing to remove the sweater from its racks, and its supporters say “oh, get a life, it’s just a harmless joke.”

But what if the sweater read:

 I have Christmas

Cancer.

My spending just keeps growing out of control.

I ask you, what then? Would anyone be supporting Target’s “right to make a joke”? Continue reading What if Target’s Sweater Poked “Fun” at Cancer?

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Thank You, John Oliver. And I apologize.

Wow. John Oliver just summed up the problems with our mental health system in 11 minutes and 54 seconds – with plenty of room for punchlines as well. I know – seems like something that isn’t humorous. But this segment provides more respect for mental health issues than so many others I’ve seen. Well-placed humor can do that.

Watch it here:

His opening statement, like all the facts in this comedy-in-truth piece, is correct:

“It seems there is nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health.”

Guilty as charged. My last post was, yes, sparked by yet another act of violence that I suspected would eventually point back to an unaddressed mental health problem in the shooter (and lack of support for his family). After receiving 2 comments which were too extreme to approve, I almost deleted the post today. It seems to have sparked stigma and judgment instead of the empathy and constructive outrage I had hoped to inspire.  But I will let it remain in this thread, because while I myself may have jumped the gun on “judging” this shooter with expectations that attention should have been paid to his mental health way before a crisis, I also know that such judgment harms people like my son, who lives in fear that people will find out he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. (for the record, his name and identifiable facts have been changed in the book and in my posts, with his permission to tell the story that way) Continue reading Thank You, John Oliver. And I apologize.

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Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

Another merciless, senseless shooting, this time in Oregon. Another troubled shooter with three names. As details of the life of Chris Harper Mercer emerge on news outlets, I expect, sooner or later, to find out what often is uncovered: undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness symptoms. Duh. And a family left trying to “handle it” alone. Duh, again. Been there – am there. Except we got some education and support so we could try to help our son. We are among the very lucky families. At the moment. Continue reading Chris Harper Mercer: A Preventable Tragedy?

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Sons with Schizophrenia: A Tale of Three Mothers

Love matters...but it's not enough
Love matters…but it’s not enough

Three mothers with so much in common, we could form a club. Each raised one son and one daughter, through adolescence into young adulthood. Each loves her children with all her heart. And, sadly, each of our brilliant, happy, sweet sons began to change in their mid-teens, and were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. We have each written about our experiences, shared our stories so they might help others.

But our stories have taken three very different turns. Today, one of these mothers mourns the death of her son, who passed away in “individual housing” earlier this year. Another of us sits stoically in a courtroom as her son is being tried for shooting moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. And I, the lucky one, get to hug my son as he heads off to work, in his car, filled with gas that he paid for himself. For today, yes, I am the lucky one.

My heart goes out to the other mothers, even though I have never met them. I only know them through their writings, but I feel their struggles, their pain, their guilt, their love. Anyone who lives with mental illness in their family knows that we live life with crossed fingers, and we fight with all our might to make the right decisions.

And it is far from easy. Continue reading Sons with Schizophrenia: A Tale of Three Mothers

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What’s the Difference When Your Child’s Illness is in the Brain? “Sympathy”

60 minutes recently did a segment on the plight of families dealing with mental illness.  They interviewed many families and healthcare professionals in Connecticut, on how our system fails our Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis.

Deeds: "The system failed my son"
Deeds: “The system failed my son”

Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds speaks out about how he was attacked by his son Gus, who suffered with schizophrenia. Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds suffered multiple stab wounds, and his 24-year-old son Gus died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot in what police are considering an attempted murder-suicide.

Read more: Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds’ Son Evaluated and Released Before Stabbing | TIME.com http://nation.time.com/2013/11/19/before-senators-stabbing-a-shortage-of-psychiatric-beds/#ixzz2rzmupJD6

Connecticut families, in the continued aftermath of the Newtown shootings, still face the same issues of lack of beds, a revolving-door mental health system, and lack of support and help.

How I wish they had interviewed me, too – but the stories of Deeds and the other families are heartbreakingly similar. Sadly, the story in my book is not unique. Many suffer the same issues we do, every day, without support or even understanding.

In the “overtime” segment about stigma, a group of families shares the effect of stigma on their experience, and how a broken leg can bring casseroles, while a mental illness can bring warning letters from the lawyers of your neighbors.

What’s the difference, according to one of the parents interviewed? “Sympathy.”

Watch the clip here:

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On Glee, Odd Behavior, and – Schizophrenia?

Today’s post comes courtesy of Ben Behind His Voices reader – and fellow Mom and blogger – Kari Larson. She wrote to me about a recent episode of Glee that I had also watched….and noticed Sue Sylvester’s line of dialogue that compares character Blaine’s new interest (talking with puppets) to that of someone “with schizophrenia and off meds”

I had noticed it, but it didn’t really hit me as insulting because…well, hey, this is Glee, where they exaggerate pretty much everything and nothing is really off limits. Everyone acts erratically on Glee, and eventually they usually redeem themselves with some lesson following the farce.

But my son Ben doesn’t watch Glee, so he had no reaction to the episode. Kari, however, wrote about a different experience.

 

Hi Randye,

My daughter is 17 and has schizophrenia. She and I have watched Glee since the very beginning and overall it’s been a show that embraces all types of people.

The most recent episodes have really upset us, and I’m wondering if some of the dialogue has come to your attention.

In one episode, the character of Marley is complaining about her ex-boyfriend’s erratic behavior, that he’s nice one minute and horrible the next, and says it’s so “schizo.”

This not only upset me because it was said in a negative way, but because it’s not even correct, further perpetuating the myth that schizophrenia entails a split personality disorder. Untrue.

Another episode — quite possibly the very next one — has Sue Sylvester complaining that she didn’t want school board members coming to the school and seeing “schizophrenia” students talking to imaginary puppets (one character had a hand puppet).

My daughter is heartbroken. I’ve sent Twitter comments to Ryan Murphy (Glee creator), Glee on Fox (official Glee Twitter account) and one of the executive producers. I don’t expect to hear anything back, but I was wondering if any of this has come across your radar.

Thank you,
Kari Larson

 

In her blog(http://ninepillsaday.com/) , Kari adds: “I’m annoyed by two things. One: Schizophrenia DOES NOT MEAN split personalities. Two: Please, unless you, the writers of Glee, are headed toward a fantastic teaching moment, STOP USING THAT WORD. Stop using any form of that word. It’s insulting and, more often than not, used incorrectly.”

What do you think? Glee “just joking” in the way it does for many issues, or stigma to to be protested? Does Sue Sylvester owe us an apology in a future episode?

 

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Radio Interview: “We All Got Issues” Show

What’s going on now? Why doesn’t Ben “accept” his illness? What tips help families like ours to cope? Latest interview aired today,  September 23, 2013:

What is life like with a family member who has schizophrenia?  During this episode of the “We All Got Issues” show – schizophrenia is the ISSUE.  Dr. Glenda interviews Randye Kaye, the mother of a son with schizophrenia.  Randye is also the author of “Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope”.

Here is the show – starting with the song “The Climb” setting the tone.  Dr. Glenda Clare is an empathetic, knowledgeable interviewer.

 

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Amanda Bynes: Will She Become the Celebrity Face of Schizophrenia?

BynesAmanda Bynes is in the news – again. But this time, much of the focus is on the possibility of a schizophrenia diagnosis.  I mention this to Ben, and he says, “Hmmm. Interesting.” This story will not, I suspect, make a dent in Ben’s insight into his own illness – not now, at least. Patience is key when you love someone with schizophrenia – along with many other qualities.

But we follow the story, to see what the media does with it.  I see Hollywood Gossip report she is on a “drug cocktail” and comment:

“I’m so glad to hear that Amanda is responding to medication (not “drugs”…these are medications to restore balance, not drugs to alter it). Yes, the big question is there: will she take the meds on her own? In my experience, probably not. Many medical reasons for that (see “anosognosia“) but her parents should definitely go ahead with conservatorship. It has been a huge help for us! I blogged about this at healthyplace.com, website with great info and support. “
My blogs on conservatorship have gotten the attention of Marketplace, a smart and fair show on marketplaceNPR that is business-oriented, and they have invited me to be part of a show  (coming up this week) on the topic of conservatorship, with Amanda in the news and all.
This same issue came to light in when Britney Spears‘ parents sought to help their child after bizarre behaviors in public brought attention to her possible mental illness as well.  At that time, I was booked to appear on Dr. Drew’s HLN show, but got bumped by a Hurricane Irene story. This time, I hope I can be of some help on Marketplace, sharing the family view of how conservatorship can help.
safety-net
I am Ben’s conservator, but it doesn’t mean I run his life, or control him. I am simply allowed to help him when he needs the help – and, yes, sometimes when he doesn’t know he needs that help. (when schizophrenia symptoms take hold.) It’s a safety net. And we need it.
Watch this blog for updates!

 

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The Aurora Shootings: One Year Later

One Year Ago...
One Year Ago…

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Untreated schizophrenia seems to have been part of the picture of this awful tragedy,  one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

James Holmes, a young man suffering from chronic schizophrenia plotted and proceeded to carry out an attack on innocent movie goers.

 

 

According to the Associated Press today,

Twelve people died, 70 were injured, and more than 300 fled into the night and into the arms of loved ones.

A year later, the survivors cannot forget their terror, or the injuries they suffered, or their losses. But they search for meaning, and sometimes find it: the victims whose faith has strengthened; the father who lost his son but found a cause; the couple who believe that the anniversary of a hateful act can be transformed by love.

The Huffington Post updated the story yesterday, recalling these details about shooter James Holmes’ background before the event:

Citing a judge’s gag order and privacy laws, those who know the most about Holmes’ life in Colorado say little. But there were hints along the way that his life had taken a sharp and dangerous turn.

In March 2012, four months before the shootings, he told a classmate “about wanting to kill people … and that he would do so when his life was over,” prosecutors said in a filing.

Prosecutors also said he opened accounts at two dating websites in 2012 and wrote in his profile, “Will you visit me in prison?”

In June, about five weeks before the shootings, a psychiatrist who had been treating Holmes told a campus police officer that Holmes had made “homicidal statements” and threatened her.

 

ht_Kirstin_Eugene_aurora_shooting_kb_130719_16x9_992
Planning to Wed on Aurora Anniversary

Shooting survivors Eugene Han and Kirstin Davis say they have forgiven James E. Holmes, whose defense lawyers acknowledge was the gunman. They intend to “reclaim the date” by getting married tomorrow, the anniversary of the shootings they survived.

Meanwhile, the details remain cloudy. What are the details of James Holmes’ illness, childhood, and were there warning signs that should have been heeded? What if he had been receiving treatment?

Most vitally: Could this have been prevented?

Gun control remains an issue, of course, but so does mental health treatment.

We must not sweep these issues under the table. One year is not enough – no time is ever enough – to recover emotionally from the the results of non-treatment that did not have to happen.

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Call Me Crazy: You Are Not Alone in this Fight

Cast of Call Me Crazy

Lifetime is premiering a new film this Saturday at 8 PM:  

 

Call Me Crazy and I can’t wait to see it. I hope you will watch it too.

 

Here is the description from Lifetime:

Through the five shorts named after each title character — Lucy, Eddie, Allison, Grace and Maggie – powerful relationships built on hope and triumph raise a new understanding of what happens when a loved one struggles with mental illness. “Call Me Crazy: A Five Film” stars Academy Award® and Golden Globe® winners Jennifer Hudson, Melissa Leo and Octavia Spencer, Sarah Hyland, Sofia Vassilieva, Brittany Snow, Ernie Hudson, Jason Ritter, three-time Emmy Award®-winner Jean Smart, Lea Thompson, Oscar®-nominee Melanie Griffith and Chelsea Handler. Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bonnie Hunt, Ashley Judd and Sharon Maguire direct the anthology

NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) is a partner in this broadcast. They have a launched a new stigma-busting initiative as part of the campaign, encouraging us all to share our stories as part of You Are Not Alone in  This Fight.

As I myself prepare to visit Ohio, New York, Louisiana, Michigan, Connecticut and Tennessee in the next few weeks to share our story for Mental Health Awareness Month, I am thrilled that the messages will reach way beyond personal travels and speeches to reach the wide viewing public.

 

Here is the story I shared on the NAMI site:

My son has experienced what I later learned is a fairly typical gradual-onset  pattern toward full-blown, and heartbreaking, schizophrenia. After years of chaos, we have gone through the stages of family emotional acceptance (NAMI Family-to-Family saved us, which is why I now teach and train others to teach it) and have hope once again – but that hope is always guarded, affected by stigma, caution and some sense of loss.

One saving grace comes in realizing we are not alone. Speaking out about family experience brings mental illness into the light, where it belongs. My book Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope was created in part to open eyes, ears and hearts to the family experience – and get schizophrenia out of the closet so we can work on paths toward mental and emotional recovery.

Bravo to Lifetime – I hope this movie can help us take another step away from stigma and toward empathy, acceptance and solutions.

Randye Kaye

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