Thursday, October 14, 2010

We're All Human

A few months ago I was doing some mental health research and stumbled across a PSA done by - an organization started by Glenn Close, who has several family members that are affected by mental illness. I clicked on the video and immediately felt tears run down my cheeks. As John Mayer sang his lyrics "fighting like a one man army" the camera panned across the t-shirt of Brandon Staglin that reads "schizophrenia." (Can you imagine, this is probably what my own brother feels like, a one man army, fighting the world - powerful, eh?) I was already choked up, but had not idea how deeply this PSA would affect me. I'd really like you to watch for yourself, but will tell you the spot, in one word, humanizes mental illness. It brands individuals as family members, friends, battle buddies and those suffering from mental illness by, well, their illness.

Because for so long now I have watched my own brother and family suffer through the struggle that is schizophrenia, I often forget that there are people all around me each day that are battling mental illness. They are taking medications and living what we consider a 'normal life.' The commercial does something that I often try to remind others to do - connects those individuals with mental illnesses to a family and friends. It's very easy to call the man mumbling on the corner to himself 'crazy' and 'nuts' when you haven't the slightest clue as to what chapters are a part of his own story. If that were your own brother or your father, would you ever think twice about calling him a name or speaking about him like he isn't there? I can tell you from experience, that you tend to instead feel compassion and a gut wrenching ache for that person and the family that just hopes the best for them.

In clicking around the site, I found countless peoples' stories about how they have been personally affected by mental illness. It was very special for me to watch Brandon Staglin and his mother discuss schizophrenia so freely - to discuss the strange behaviors and the difficulty Brandon had committing to medications. To know that there are individuals that really understand is priceless. How comforting to know that there are others, just like me, that may have been a character in their own family member's delusions. If we can't understand each other, who will? Given hearing others' stories, knowing they have been through the same challenges, I wanted to take an opportunity to tell some of the harder stories. Stories (one of many) that make a lot of people uncomfortable, but is just another day in the life when it comes to having a brother with schizophrenia.

I have often found myself at the heart and root of Brian's delusions. I am out to get him. I am planting ideas and voices in his head. I am trying to kill him. I am stealing from him. I am the product of my parents, who are evil. I am the reason he has failed. He wants me to fail. Ever heard it before? Ever felt like the enemy? More times than not I have to remind myself that Brian is sick. He might resent me, but he will eventually resent me for the 'normal' life I have lived, the opportunity I have endured, not the support I gave him. With Brian's disease has come elaborate delusions and hallucinations that are often accompanied by strange physical ticks, an often lost and blank stare. There have been several times that I've been genuinely scared to be alone with him, worried what a severe bout of paranoia will make him do to me. It's hard to consider someone that was once so bright has a such a long delay in response that you wonder if they even hear you. Advocating and educating isn't easy. It's not easy to discuss the hard stuff - it's easy to talk about the future and the hope. But what about the right now? Who will discuss the scary part? The sad part? The part that makes you angry? We will! I encourage you to reach out to someone close to you and share. How will anyone ever understand if you won't allow them to try?

Please visit and watch their PSA, listen to the individuals' stories and support them in their efforts to bring change to the way people view mental illness.

Looking forward to hearing from you blogosphere! You can reach Anna and I at



  1. Becca, can you post a link to the PSA so we can all see it?

  2. Of course!

  3. Hey girls! Great blog, glad you've started this. I've been watching a close family member battle severe mental illness as well, comforting to know there's so much support out there. Keep up the good work!!

    Shannon Kilgore xo

  4. I was reading an article today that I thought you blog readers might be interested in - relates to my post from this week. See an excerpt below from Psychology Today blog written by Gary Small.


    Dr. Bernice Pescosolido of Indiana University and her collaborators analyzed surveys given to nearly 2,000 people in 1996 and 2006. The subjects were asked to respond to vignettes describing patients with schizophrenia, major depression, and alcohol dependence. They discovered that 67 percent of the respondents attributed major depression to biological causes, which was an increase from 54 percent a decade earlier. They also thought medical treatment was best for people with mental illness regardless of the diagnosis.

    Despite this greater acceptance of mental illness as a medical condition requiring medical treatment, the stigma of the disease lingers. Six out of 10 respondents were not willing to work closely with someone with schizophrenia, and more than seven out of 10 felt the same about people with alcohol dependence. Even if a person believed that the mental disturbance was from a biological cause and they were in favor of treatment, the respondent was more likely to endorse community rejection of the person described in the vignette.

    The stigma doesn't just seem to apply to patients with psychiatric conditions, but also to those who treat them, and I've known several doctors over the years who have endorsed such anti-psychiatry views. I remember the anti-psychiatry sentiments when I was in medical school - I would overhear an occasional student or professor take a poke at psychiatry, insinuating that it was an ineffective specialty based more on speculation than science. Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing had questioned whether mental illness should be considered an illness at all, since it had no proven physical cause. He argued that the concept of madness stemmed from political and interpersonal influences.