Mental Illnesses are not Casserole Illnesses

Joseph Merlin Bowers

Someone on Facebook posted that schizophrenia is not a casserole illness. I liked that way of putting things so much that I decided to steal it.

What she meant was that when someone is diagnosed with schizophrenia people don’t come by offering food, starting fund raisers or ice water challenges trying to help the family any way they can. So it is with any mental illness that affects behavior. If the family is not shunned altogether, too often the mother is blamed.

This is not true of any other type of illness that I know of. Mental illnesses are major tragedies for families. The serious illnesses are very debilitating. People with such a disease die as much as 25 years younger than those without. A few years back I visited a traveling Vietnam memorial which got me to thinking: was I lucky or unlucky? Despite graduating from high school in 1965 I didn’t go to Vietnam probably because I had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and spent two and a half months as a patient in a state mental institution during my junior year. Doing some research I found that a significantly higher percentage of people with schizophrenia died within ten years of their diagnosis than soldiers died in Vietnam. Mental illnesses kill people just as dead as cancer, heart disease or anything else.

My family, like many others, felt that my having a mental illness and spending time in mental institutions shamed the entire family. The subject was never spoken of by anybody in my family. One of the big tendencies those of us with such illnesses must guard against is self-stigmatization. After all society has long told us we should be ashamed.

I believe that that is starting to change.  As more of us speak out and, with treatment, live fairly normal and successful lives, prevailing fear and ignorance lessens.  When I make a NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation, when I get to the part where I talk of my hopes for the future; mine is for the day when mental illnesses are casserole illnesses though I have yet to express it that well.

Until that day comes, I struggle to think of our society as civilized and humane.


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