Schizophrenia is an ugly word. It is an equally ugly disorder. To those afflicted with this disorder, the pain, both psychological and physical, is virtually unbearable, and too many times, as suicide statistics bear out, the pain is unbearable. To most on the outside looking in, it is incomprehensible, an enigmatic set of thoughts and behaviors (and if an affective component exists, moods) that stir the exaggerated fears of those who witness its effects. Ignorance, and I don’t mean that word in a derogatory manner, is the birthplace of those exaggerated fears.
This will be one of my final blog posts before I participate in a talk to be given at a nearby high school early next month. I want to thank the teachers and administrators who helped to bring this engagement to fruition. Your understanding of the importance of mental health is a testament to your foresight and courage. But, as important as teachers and administrators are, the real heroes of this talk will be the students.
During my high school years (in the late 1980s), depression was not talked about. For quite a few, this “common cold of mental disorders” was the shame of families unfortunate enough to have to deal with depression’s own devastating effects. Now, not even a quarter of a century later, a group of 200+ high school psychology students will sit in the same auditorium with a man who has paranoid schizophrenia. Now that’s pretty f-ing cool.
What has changed from my generation to this one that has created an atmosphere in which such an interaction can occur? Better medications? Sure. Better therapies? Sure. More public exposure to persons with severe mental disorders living in the community? Maybe. The change could be due to a lot of reasons. However, there is one fundamental idea that seems to have caught on in the last two decades that wasn’t around as much when I was in high school (and definitely not in my parents’ generation). That idea? That mental disorders of any severity or of any kind are not the fault of the people who are afflicted with them.
This fundamental shift in ideology has been so subtle yet so profound that this new generation of teenagers, a growing number of whom accept this idea as a fundamental truth and who are simultaneously pushed down instead of lifted up by many in the older generations, will change the world. They will change it faster, more meaningfully, and in more dramatic ways than any generation to come before them. They will take severe mental disorders like schizophrenia out of the frontier mentality in which it has languished for centuries and provide for them the vigor and vitality of compassion, empathy, and ultimately better treatments. For this, they should be uplifted, encouraged, and lauded.
In closing, I would like to thank the students with whom I will be speaking early next month. Thank you for following my blog. Thank you for taking an interest in mental health issues. And, thank you for your willingness to sit in an auditorium for 1 1/2 to 2 hours with me, for having the courage to listen to my story and then to ask questions about my experiences, and for taking what you and I learn together and applying that to touch real people’s lives. Because there are real people (millions of them) out there who are really suffering, some of whom are ashamed of their disorders, and some who have no means to help themselves. You will be the generation to change their lives.