Tag Archives: mental illness in the media

Ben Behind His Voices cover

Nurse Jackie and the Effect of Meds

Nurse Jackie poster
Nurse Jackie on Showtime

If you watch Nurse Jackie on Showtime, you know that her daughter Grace, age 11, has been suffering with an anxiety disorder that has her heart racing, fears escalating and thoughts rushing.

Ont this week’s episode Grace asks to be put on medication, and her therapist and family agree to try it.  Jackie sits with her daughter as the first pediatric (low) dose of Xanax kicks in, and asks how she feels.

Grace talks about how she can feel her heart slowing down, and how she is starting to feel that she can say  “No!” to the many ideas that are all demanding her attention. The ideas are still there, she says, but she now knows she has the power to ignore them if she chooses to.

I imagine that, for Ben, this is what his medication does for him.  I know he is far from “cured”, but when he is stable on his medication he seems to have the power to turn the volume down Continue reading Nurse Jackie and the Effect of Meds

Schizophrenia Awareness Day: May 24, 2011

Schizophrenia Awareness Association



The Schizophrenia Awareness Assocation (SAA) in India has declared this day Schizophrenia Awareness Day. Schizophrenia affects one percent of the world’s population. Not just in the United States; this is an international statistic. The Times of India has a wonderful article today, talking about recovery and the need for family and social support. Oh yes. Indeed. One quote: 

“Integration of schizophrenics into the mainstream society and spreading awareness on the mental condition is important for normalcy to return. Isolation should be avoided at all costs.”

Community Matters

Oh, how true this is – and how tested it has become here in our family this week.  Ben has, in the space of one month, continued at his new job (his first job in eight years), finished his six credits in college (final papers and projects), and moved into his own apartment.  That’s a lot of change, and a lot of stress.  So far, so good – almost.

Families who remain involved in their loved ones’ recovery know this: let go as much as you can, and keep your eyes open for signs of relapse.  This is, always, the delicate balance.
So – when Ben moved from a group home (with eight housemates and 24-hour staff support) to a supported studio apartment (with med supervision a four-block walk away, and no community handy) this month, I had my concerns.  Oh, yes.  I do want him to take (and enjoy) responsibility, but as always medication compliance is the foundation upon which this success rests – and, of course, the emotional and social parts of his treatment plan.

Families know the signs of potential relapse, believe me.  In Ben’s case, one day cheeking the meds shows up in his personality: he gets too energetic, tries too hard to engage. His voice goes up in pitch.  I saw this happen this week, so I went in to action: called his new caseworker, visited the weekend staff at the office, and reminded them all: Watch him. He doesn’t want to need you, but he does.  Make sure he takes the meds, and that they stay in his system.  Oh, the tricks he can play.

Today he is back to normal.  Mission accomplished – for now. That was a reminder I’d hoped to never see again: that Ben needs the medication to continue to on this amazing path in recovery.  And, he needs his community: family, friend, providers.  He may never agree that this is so, but for now I will be the watchdog.  Thank goodness he has caseworkers who will take me seriously.

This is a team effort.
More from the article in Times of India:

On bringing the patient back into mainstream society 

* Proper medication, family support, therapy and rehabilitation is important

* Psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, group therapy and family therapy are required

* Rehabilitation through workshops at support group meetings and at rehabilitation centres is necessary

No matter where you live – this is true. Together we can help each other.

Bipolar Disorder on the Cover of People Magazine?

Well, Okay. So it’s actually a gorgeous picture of Catherine Zeta-Jones.  Still, it brings one more mental illness into the light, with a matter-of-fact movie star who says it shouldn’t be a big deal. I wrote my first-ever letter to the editor after reading this week’s issue, which also contained a similar admission from Disney darling Demi Lovato.

In case it doesn’t make it to print (hey, I tried), this is what I wrote:

Dear Editor,

The best kind of applause to both Catherine Zeta Jones and to Demi Lovato for their courage in refusing to be ashamed about an illness that just happens to affect a body organ known as the brain. As Zeta-Jones so beautifully put it, “There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.” And Ms. Lovato has, I hope, inspired others of her generation to be open and accepting of their diagnoses and the treatment that helps. As the mother of a wonderful kid who developed schizophrenia in his late teens (a common timetable for those with gradual-onset schizophrenia), I look forward to the day when my son – who, by the way, is in recovery with the help of treatment, patience, and love – and others with schizophrenia can speak as openly about their illness as well. While bipolar disorder is essentially a mood disorder and schizophrenia’s cluster of symptoms is more accurately described as a thought disorder, there are many areas in common. The greatest- and most shameful – of these is the presence of stigma. One day I hope my son – and the many others who have a diagnosed mental illness – will receive the same amount of respect, understanding, acceptance and research dollars as those who have illnesses that affect other organs of the body. Once again: brava, ladies! 

Randye Kaye
author: Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope
(Rowman & Littlefield, summer 2011)
Family-to-Family teacher and trainer for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Jared Lee Loughner,tragedy, and ignoring the signs of illness

Every situation is different, I know. I cannot sit here and write about any magic formula to have prevented the tragic incident that happened in Arizona, where Jared Lee Loughner caused so much heartbreak in mere moments. But the fact that keeps bouncing around in my head is this, from a promo for Diane Rehm’s NPR show of 1/11/11 (worth a listen, definitely): “The National Institute of Mental Health reports six percent of Americans over the age of eighteen have a serious psychiatric illness. A look at the challenges of identifying young adults with mental disorders and why so many don’t get treatment.”

Maybe, just maybe — if there had been more understanding, better education, earlier treatment, reduced stigma, more supportive services for Jared, more support for his family — maybe those people in Arizona would be alive today. I can’t say for sure. But I know that, without the treatment that my own son Ben finally is accepting, and without the family love that stayed with us throughout all the chaos of his schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment, he could be off somewhere doing something horribly newsworthy. He might have commited suicide. He could have frozen to death in an Montana cold snap, homeless. He could be locked in a nursing home for the rest of his life. He could have…I can’t even think about this anymore.

Right now, Ben is safe, loved, living in a group home, and doing well in school. Maybe someday he’ll have a job. For now – it’s good. It’s very good. We love him. We have him.

Ben’s nature, fortunately, is sweet, and he has never been violent, even in psychosis. But that is no guarantee that he would make good choices. Oh. No.

My hope is that Ben Behind His Voices, when published this summer, may open a few more eyes to the needs of consumers, families, and providers and agencies who so desperately need education, support, finances, housing, understanding, respect, and integrated treatment.

Legislators, on state and federal levels: Come on! Don’t vote to save a penny in “services” that could lead to the much higher costs – in every way – of another incident like the one that killed so many lives and dreams.