You've Got To Have Friends: Mental Illness and Community

November 13, 2011 Randye Kaye

Silver Linings aren't always visible right away, and sometimes we never find them. In our family, the silver lining of new friendship emerged this week from an awful event a few weeks ago. On his way to an "anonymous" meeting he has attended for almost eight years without incident, my son Ben became the victim of a crime. He was thrown to the ground, threatened with what the mugger said was a knife (we'll never know, nor do I want to), and robbed. The kids (two of them, he says) took his keys, his backpack with all his belongings, his cash, and his feeling of safety. Ben will never go to that meeting again, because the neighborhood now holds these terrifying memories .

The silver lining? Well, in finding a new meeting to attend, Ben has finally met some young people his own age who also have had issues with mental health.

[caption id="attachment_438" align="alignright" width="170" caption="silver linings, eventually"][/caption]

Fortunately, he is alright - Ben did the right thing and gave in. No blood, but a badly wrenched shoulder from when they ripped his backpack off of him. Sure, it could have been much worse, and we are grateful for that. But - well, you know. He feels violated, of course. And they took many things that he had worked so hard to own: his college textbooks, his notebook filled with creative writing, his phone and ipod, his handheld video games. Knowing how stress can trigger schizophrenia symptoms, we kept a close eye on his reactions for weeks. Fortunately, his post-attack reactions seem in the normal range. Whew.

And now - these new relationships have cheered Ben up considerably. I hadn't fully realized how lonely he must have been until he started receiving phone calls again from friends who want to do something as simple as go to a movie together.

At one of his meetings, the issue of mental illness was even brought up - and according to Ben over 90% of those in the room that night spoke about meds that they take. I don't fool myself into thinking this will be some sort of magic road to "illness acceptance" for Ben - but it can't hurt to have a few more bricks laid on the path.

Meanwhile, he looks forward to his meetings as never before because he will see friends, and that brightens any mother's heart.

We all need community, and friends. Some more than others, perhaps (I have a brother who only needs his small circle, while I thrive on larger circles surrounding the inner one of family-and-just-like-family folks) - but it is a basic human need to feel like a part of something. Ben's job and college classes are successful for him because he feels like part of a team; his "anonymous" meetings are founded on the same principle. NAMI has a site where young adults with mental illness can form an online community: Strength of Us. See, it's needed!

Want to be a friend to someone with mental illness - and to their family members as well? Natasha Tracy posted a terrific article a year ago about Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say. It's a great reminder.

Even if mental illness gets in the way of relationships at times, it doesn't erase the need for human kindness, respect, empathy, interaction, and even love. We all need it.

APA Reference
Kaye, R. (2011, November 13). You've Got To Have Friends: Mental Illness and Community, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 23 from

Author: Randye Kaye

indu chhibber
November, 15 2011 at 11:51 pm

Reading about both you mothers struggling with your sons' illness has left me very sad.I sincerely hope, they both join the mainstream of life soon,as if nothing had happened.It is admirable the way you two stand staunchly behind your sons.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
November, 16 2011 at 2:12 am

Thank you, Indu. That's what love is, though, yes? We love no matter what - and yet, if a cure could be found "as if nothing had happened", there would be celebrations globally like CNN has never seen! Meanwhile, I choose gratitude whenever I can, action when I must, hope and love always. Thanks for writing!

November, 13 2011 at 5:16 pm

my son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia less than a year, although we have known longer, thats when he was more or less forced into going to the hospital, and seeing a phyciatrist, previously the last few years have given many symptoms of something being wrong, but i couldnt pput my finger on it, until one day he punched a hole in the wall in confrontation with his dad, i had to bring him to the hospital then, and he seen a crisis nurse. he was given pills for his psychosis, and it took till he was forced later to go to the hospital, and threatened with being forced to take meds, that he started taking them regularly, i cant seem to get the right perscription for him, he stilll cant sleep, its a nightmare when night comes around and he takes meds, and they cause him some torment until he finally gets to sleep. I mostly stay up until then and keep him company, so i am up til 2-3 in the morning, and am myself starting to feel sicker, lots has happened these past couple of years, i feel massive guilt, especially, heart ache hearbreak, etc. Try to keep his dreams alive, and be supportive, but its been tough to say the least. So much more i can say, but i am more concerned what is to come...I still hold on to hope that he will get better. Did you, or do you feel the same?
mom who needs help

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
November, 14 2011 at 10:14 am

oh, Frances. I am so sorry for all you and your family are going through - especially your son. Of course there were times when I almost lost hope, but I found help and hope through the education and support I got from NAMI (especially the Family-to-Family class), certain books, and talking with others who truly understood (not the ones tempted to judge). That's one of the reasons I wrote about our family journey - warts and all!- in my book Ben Behind His Voices - along with our story, it provides resource info. But you have at least found Healthy Place, and I hope you will find some kindred spirits here. Hang in there. This process takes many things, including the patience of saints...

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