Last week, speculation about a story in the news made its way into conversations in the work place and amongst friends and acquaintances. Everyone wanted to make sense out of what could have caused a man to begin beating his newborn niece when handed to him by the infant’s mother. What kind of person could have done such a thing, and why?
Sadly, it was reported that the man had paranoid schizophrenia, had recently been released from the hospital after a 72-hour hold, and was not taking his medication. Public reaction is understandable, given the heinous nature of what occurred. It appears that in this case, his actions were most likely the result of a severe delusional state. However, despite what is often portrayed in the media, this kind of violent behavior is rare in those with schizophrenia or severe mental illnesses. In fact, the greatest challenge they often face is managing symptoms that can be debilitating, and obtaining proper medication and treatment in order to alleviate these symptoms.
My heart goes out to everyone in this family, as they struggle to deal with the loss of their precious baby and make sense of it all. It is clear that the parents were actively seeking help for their son prior to this incident, and I can only imagine how they must feel now. The pain of their loss must be multiplied by the fact that there is only so much they could do to help their adult son manage his illness.
Families assume many of the responsibilities of finding the appropriate help and treatment, and this can be a huge challenge. There can be many obstacles along the way, including convincing someone to seek treatment when the person doesn’t believe that he/she is ill. Balancing their loved one’s legal rights as an individual with the need for treatment can present a seemingly impossible dilemma. It can be an exhausting and heart-wrenching process, and a strong support system for the family is essential. Because of the stigmas associated with mental illness, many families choose to keep their struggles private, and this leads to a sense of isolation and helplessness. The only way to ensure progress is to break the silence and open up to others so that they can have a better understanding.
A stronger voice is needed to advocate for these highly misunderstood illnesses. I am optimistic that with current research and increased knowledge, the outlook for mental illness treatment and recovery will continue to improve. It is easy to get disheartened when we hear about a treatment “failure”, but that is all the more reason to continue the search for answers. I am hopeful that by examining the misconceptions about mental illness, people’s attitudes will continue to improve as well.