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Our Mental Health Blogs

Schizophrenia and the Social Brain: Why It Matters

Schizophrenia and the Social Brain: Why It Matters

My son Ben spent his Saturday afternoon playing basketball with 3 friends.

If you, too, have a child or other relative living with mental illness, you know that this is a small miracle – or maybe not so small. Ben’s social brain function has been among the victims of his schizophrenia. But it’s possible that it can come back – and, in some ways, it has begun to.

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HBO’s “Girls”: OCD, Anxiety and Hannah’s Parents

HBO’s “Girls”: OCD, Anxiety and Hannah’s Parents

“Are you taking your meds, sweetie?” asks Hannah’s Dad, juggling the cell phone as he shops in the hardware store.

“Of course I’m taking my meds!”shouts Hannah, as she compulsively counts to 8 in every imaginable way (Hannah has OCD), hides from life under her comforter, and tries to cope with the pain she has inflicted upon herself with a Q-Tip. (Hard to explain. Gotta see the show.)

Of course, Hannah is clearly not taking her meds.

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5 Lessons About Mental Illness: Grief, Gratitude and Advocacy

5 Lessons About Mental Illness: Grief, Gratitude and Advocacy

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda…

Those of us dealing with mental illness in our families can’t help but occasionally compare where we are to “what might have been.” It’s human nature, I suppose. While comparison can be inspiring, it can also lead to needless disappointment. And we have had quite enough of that, thank you.

In my most Zen frame of mind, I am happy for others whose children are on their way to six-figure-incomes and a life with a clear timetable for success, love, and growth. In my not-so-Zen moments, I allow myself that twinge of jealousy.  For my son Ben can no more help his schizophrenia than I can stop a blizzard.

My mantra for returning to Zennish state, after processing human emotion:

“It is what it is.”

But that is not so easy when the human emotion is grief.

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Parenting and Mental Illness: For Better or Worse

Parenting and Mental Illness: For Better or Worse

The love begins the moment we know we are pregnant – or perhaps even before that, as we dream about the child we might someday have. Then, with each passing day with our child- from the womb, to birth, and as the child grows -our  love grows, and the commitment strengthens.

Parental vows may be unspoken, but they are as strong as steel. We witness such vows all the time at weddings, but we parents silently take the same vow from the moment we know we are parents:

I, Mom/Dad, take you, son/daughter, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

All parents – indeed, all spouses too – know that hopes and dreams must alter as pieces of reality sets in. Our child may be a different sex than we had envisioned; he/she may be born with a birth defect; he/she may want to be a scientist when we had always hoped for a musician in the family. Reality may test our vows, but love is powerful enough to help us ride the waves – and when love seems harder to access, vows take us the rest of the way.

When Mental Illness Tests the Family

When illness enters the family picture, vows are more seriously tested. When that illness is a mental illness, the test is even more difficult.  

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When Mental Illness Hits the Family: Things to Remember

When Mental Illness Hits the Family: Things to Remember

After mental illness strikes a family, can a family get happiness back? Can they bond again? These are worrisome concerns because, after all, having a loved one with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder can put a lot of stress on family members and change family dynamics.

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Families Dealing with Mental Illness Left to Cope Alone

Families Dealing with Mental Illness Left to Cope Alone

A Cause of Sandy Hook School Shooting?

The obituaries in my local paper still contain too many heartbreaking attempts to sum up the life of a six-year-old. My friends continue to tearfully share personal connections to the heartbroken families in Newtown, where less than one week ago lives were tragically ended – and countless more changed – forever.

As we continue to cry out:

Why? how?  And how we prevent this from happening again?

The voices of reason speak out: Better Gun Control. Fewer violent video games. A shift in media coverage to stop sensationalizing violence. More enforcement of mandated treatment for those who need it. And – a cause we have felt personally ever since Ben’s diagnosis of schizophrenia – more help and services for those with mental health issues, and for their families.

Who will listen? Who will act?

We must. All of us. Pick a cause and advocate. Fight back. Speak out. Insist upon change. And don’t let these issues fade.

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Giving Thanks: Living Life vs. Fighting Life

Giving Thanks: Living Life vs. Fighting Life

I take no credit for the title of this post. It comes from my son Ben, who is many ways wonderful. I hesitate to define him here with the label “diagnosed with schizophrenia” -but of course that’s why I write this blog, and why I wrote my book, Ben Behind His Voices. It’s the piece of him that makes his current insights so remarkable.

Recently Ben and I were talking about how much better his attitude has been – and I asked him why he thinks he is getting so much closer to his goals these days.  He, who used to tell me all rules were stupid and possible “government plots”, now cares deeply about punctuality, grades, and doing a good job.

Ben’s answer astounds me with its depth. He said:

“Well, now I’m living my life, not fighting my life.”

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From Mental Health Crisis to Reclaiming Your Future: The Clubhouse

From Mental Health Crisis to Reclaiming Your Future: The Clubhouse

My son, Ben, who lives with paranoid schizophrenia, is in the process of rebuilding his life. After years of feeling buried under symptoms, distracted by hospitalizations, rejected from opportunities, and feeling left behind by friends whose lives had followed more predictable paths unfettered by mental illness, he is also (dare I say it? Yes!) reclaiming his future.

So far, so good.

Living with Mental Illness. Steps toward Recovering Life.

Reclaiming his future. How delicious. How marvelously hopeful. And it’s a phrase I heard echoed this week at a breakfast briefing of the International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD) in New York City. I love this phrase, because it’s not only full of hope, it is full of truth – for those who manage to find their way to a Clubhouse, embrace its community, and take advantage of its opportunities.

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Suicide and Your Child with Mental Illness

Suicide and Your Child with Mental Illness

Sometimes you’ve  just got to say the word: suicide.

Suicide is Preventable

Monday is World Suicide Prevention Day and if having the conversation saves even one life, it’s worth breaking through the fear of “rocking the boat.” Rock away.

Although dealing with my son Ben’s schizophrenia has been no picnic, and at times I have feared for his life via accident or attack, we know we are lucky in that he has only spoken of suicide once, in the early onset phase of his illness 15 years ago.  He tells me now that he was only trying to get my attention. Mission accomplished.

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Mental Illness: What Do Mothers Know, Anyway?

Mental Illness: What Do Mothers Know, Anyway?

Answer: a lot.

At least, given the opportunity, respect and resources, we can learn. So can anyone who loves someone with a mental illness.

Last week I had what I thought was a terrific idea: why not get a parent’s perspective on the recent tragedy in Aurora, the public perception of schizophrenia, and the value of treatment for mental illness?  After all, family members live the experience of seeing a loved one’s decline into mental illness, and (if we are informed, supported, and -let’s face it – a little bit lucky) the benefits of proper treatment.

Schizophrenia expert? Not just an M.D.

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