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Helping vs. Enabling

I think some of my best ideas come to me during the night or while I'm in bed. I got an idea about a blog topic that I couldn't shake and had to prematurely get out of bed to record my thoughts while "they were hot." I'll start with a brief history with my English literature teacher from high school...

I always liked to write and to journal. During the last part of high school and early college my teachers and professors complimented me on my writing. I had the same English Literature teacher my junior and senior year of high school- Mrs. Parker. I really liked her because she challenged me, and she liked me too because I was a good student academically, and was more mature compared to my peers. Sometimes I would share my problems with her and she would listen and provide feedback.

She sponsored an activity I created during black history month, a trivial game for students to participate in and to win prizes. I came up with brief summaries of famous African American people who made an impact on society and randomly followed up with questions about the individual during the month of February so that my peers could answer the questions by going to Mrs. Parker and receive a prize. This information was provided during morning announcements. So this was my relationship with Mrs. Parker.

Despite my ability to articulate thoughts and understandings of the literature I read, I remember one time my writing wasn't up to par and Mrs. Parker let me know it. One day, Mrs. Parker asked me to stay after class to discuss my essay. She started off my telling me she was going to give me a "B" on my paper, because she liked me, but couldn't because I did not show understanding of the story. She explained to me what the author's message was through the main character. By her honesty and accurate grading of my paper- giving me a "D"- she helped me understand the material and let me know I was not going to get off easy because we were "friends." She had high expectations of me which I appreciated.

Moving along to the topic of mental health related concerns, despite knowing that a loved one has mental illness, I've heard from some family members that their relative would not take their loved one who is struggling with mental illness to the hospital because they loved them and did not want to leave them in that environment. The loved one may even know that they have a mental illness but are not ready or willing to move forward in recovery, with the encouragement of their family, to get seek professional assistance, because of many factors for example: fear, lack of understanding, shame, guilt, and not wanting to acknowledge that the problem will never fix itself.

Is this helping my peer or enabling them to stay out of the hospital and to struggle?

Because of my harsh "wake up call" of going to jail and being forced into treatment by a judge, I do not sympathize with family members who hide or deny mental illness. I am in favor of mandated treatment compliance, because it saved my life! I was catatonic and not moving my body, or speaking and eating, while my body and mind were deteriorating day by day without getting proper treatment, which I denied while somewhat functioning.

I understand court ordered medication compliance is not for everyone, including those who do not want to take medication. I am an advocate for whatever form of treatment works for the individual including alternatives such as art therapy, music therapy, talk therapy, exercise, herbs, etc. However, I agree that a judge should intervene in the circumstance of an individual who may potentially harm themselves, or others, and commit repeated criminal offenses while not in the right state of mind.

I think a combination of stigma and lack of understanding from family members hurt my peers more so than help them whenever they are denied from some form of professional treatment. A lot of people do not understand how places like psychiatric hospitals and clubhouses support recovery. They may hear of an isolated incidence in the news and believe that all treatment facilities are bad, or worse, get their education from Hollywood. The movies often depict the poor quality of treatment from staff members that happened a long time ago, but do not tell the truth and state that these old ways of treating and caring for people in the mental health system has changed.

It bothers me when peers struggle with extreme anxiety or paranoia, heavy and dark depression, hearing criticizing voices nonstop, and relentless rituals and obsessions, and mania that has harsh consequences; and other symptoms of mental illness without relief. I am sure the family member does not want them to suffer either, but allow it because of their ignorance, lack of acceptance, and not wanting to ruin their reputation or "good name," and this ultimately happens because of the power of stigma. I do not like it when family members enable loved ones living with mental illness to not get the treatment they need.

I do not want to imply that most family members are caught up in their appearance or other stigmas and do not seek assistance for their loved one, because that is far from the truth! It was at my family's request for the judge to force medicate me, and I never had any bad feelings toward my family for wanting to help me get well again and to seek legal assistance.

In fact, I also hear of a lot of families that go to the police as a last resort. And this concerns me too, however, the bottom line is they need help for their loved one and are seeking it by any means, which is commendable. However, some of my peers feel betrayed by family for getting police involved and they have a right to feel this way, even though I do not agree with it.

I have a few questions for you and I encourage anonymity if this is too personal, but you still want to share your story:

If you are a family member: How do you feel about families that do not take their loved one into treatment?- were there any factors or reasons I did not cover that you want to elaborate on? Have you ever had to get a judge or police involved with your loved one to get them into treatment?

If you are someone living with a mental illness: Have you ever had a run-in with the legal system by the hand of your family so that they can get you into treatment? How did this make you feel?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada)?


Tour Guide said…
My wife's fist stay in the hospital was forced - I had to have the police bring her. The mandated she stay and forced her to take medication because they judged her a danger to herself. I hated to see her forced to stay and forced to put things into her body that she didn't want, but it had to be done. While she isn't all better now, she is better, and the forced hospitalization and medication is what started her down the path to feeling better.
Ashley Smith said…
Tour Guide,

I just thought of something in response to your comment- change. I don't like change even though I try it for brief moments because I am comfortable where I am... Forced change is difficult, but sometimes necessary in order to regain focus. Like your wife, as a result of the forced treatment I am in recovery.
krystal lynn said…
I just found your blog and this post really spoke to me. I have had severe depression and have OCD, fortunately I have always had the clearness to recognize when I have to go in for help, new or additional medication, and the like. My husbands brother recently passed away, he was only 47 and died of an accidental morphine overdose. He was bipolar and for years my husband and I talked about how unsafe it was for him. I know I cannot judge his pain (he was taking morphine for back pain) but it just seemed over the top for us that he would be prescribed such a powerful drug and be in charge of administering it himself when his family knew he would take more than prescribed on occasion. Anytime we said anything we were told it was not our business or made out to be blowing it all out of proportion. I tried to get the name of his doctor once so I could just place a call to alert him what was happening but noone would tell me and he lived clear across the country. Very sad. I think some people just look the other way or hope for the best but it does make me very angry. Great post. Would love you to visit my blog sometime.
This is a great post, Ashley--very compassionate. I went for years without diagnosis or treatment of depression and OCD. I am fortunate that I didn't get into legal trouble, but I suffered needlessly because of my reluctance to tell anyone how I felt. It would have helped me to even have had encouragement to get help.
Ashley Smith said…
Krystal Lynn,

Hi, I left a comment on your blog too! Thanks for sharing your blog with me.

Tina Fariss Barbour,

I am glad you are getting the support you need now!
Anonymous said…
My brother is Paranoid Schizophrenic. However, he has never been diagnosed and doesn't think anything is wrong with him. I've been trying to get him help. He was brought to the hospital ER twice by the police, however the ER Dr.(Osteopathic Dr.) doesn't do anything and lets him go. I started the process of involuntary commitment. I'm currently waiting on the County Attorney's decision. It's unbelievable that one person can decide if it's important enough to go to a judge. I don't know what I'm going to do if she decides to deny it. Does anyone have any experience with this??? Please help!!
Anonymous said…
A schizophrenic has the inability to self diagnose. The changes in my husband were so gradual that it took years before it was noticeable by me. I talked to many law enforcement including the D.A. and no one would force him into treatment because he had rights that protected him unless he was a danger to himself or others. He was finally (after years) arrested for using a car without permission. He stayed in jail for two months without treatment. I was waiting for him to get treatment since he saw a psychiatrist in jail. Another prisoner advised him to ask for a public defender. He was released immediately without the help that he needed. He refused their medication. To make a long story short, after twelve years that we will never get back, he was medicated and has a difficult time accepting what he did during those tormenting years. Yes, I still ache that I was not able to get him immediate help because our system that needes improvement.

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