LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Mental-illness stigma still prevalent | Letters
June 03, 2022 at 1:30 pm
The appalling school shooting in Texas has left us staggering backward and demanding answers to the upsurge in violence overtaking the nation.
Unfortunately, the words “mental illness” were spoken practically in the first breath of breaking news, reinforcing the chronic slippage of mental illness into violence as if they were cause and effect.
Research has repeatedly confirmed that individuals with mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
In fact, many are dying of neglect, suicide and life-limiting medical conditions.
Their hidden suffering is completely covered over with the misplaced perception they are violent, not vulnerable.
Until there is a revolution in the way we view mental illnesses, we cannot escape the slippery slope where prejudice overtakes truth and questions about the real causes of violence fall away unanswered and without insight.
Peggy J. Symons DeLand
Welcome To The Website of Hope
My name is Peggy Symons.
I am a writer, a daughter, an aunt, and a sister to seven siblings.
I am a friend to many and I am proud to be called a friend of many. But most importantly, for this website, I am an advocate for the understanding of mental illnesses. I am an individual who has lived with a major mental illness most of my life and struggled to find meaning and order in its cyclone of symptoms.
I would not have survived the neurobiological destruction of this powerful disorder of the brain without a village of assistance. Family, friends, expert and attentive professionals and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando have surrounded me with encompassing help and hope. I am also grateful to my faithful friend Tandy C. Chiles for the advice and encouragement that has kept me grounded for twenty years. Without the lantern of hope that she carries I would have lost my way entirely.
As I travel through this life I see so many others who have gifts to bring to the table of life, although mental illness would try to hide or bury these gifts.
All of us need a village of assistance. Daily vigilance, medication, freedom from stress and the safe harbor of my family and friends have helped kindle the message of hope I carry and given me the courage to share the light of my journey.
As for me and many others this illness doesn’t go away – it remains encrypted in biological code that is not yet completely understood. But hope is the resting place where the darkness of mental illness gives way to light.
My hope is to give you a life-line; for yourself, a family member or a friend that suffers from often-misunderstood illnesses that will touch the lives of one in five people.
My desire in creating this website is to bring hope to the hopeless, light to those in darkness, and beauty to those who cannot yet see the hope of God's rainbow.
I invite you to join me in this unending journey with hope and her sisters, light and beauty. This is the inspiration for my website.
In Memory of My Friend, Sister Dorothy Dawes 1934-2015
I met Sister Dottie around 1974, when I was a student at a community college in Orlando. She was a Catholic Nun assigned to the school as a campus minister at the same time I was spiraling into a serious mental illness.
Sister Dottie took me under her wings (yes, angel wings) and eventually invited me to live with her at the Newman Center for Campus Ministry where she also taught a scripture class.
She was Catholic but had a wide ecumenical faith. She never turned away from anyone or discounted them because they were of another faith or even no faith at all.
She held up the lantern of her own faith and love when all I could see was despair. She told me over and over “choose life”. And then she said something that changed the course of my life. She said you are gifted. Sister Dottie believed in me.
Through her unending and unconditional love, I could see the Lord had never forsaken me even when I had no faith at all. He loved me so much He sent one of his finest servants to help me.
I wrote to Sister Dottie for years after she returned to New Orleans. She always wrote back. One day a package from New Orleans arrived at my front door. I was so surprised to find that Sister Dottie saved every card and letter I sent over the years.
In faith, she knew someday they would be a journal of a very difficult journey from the darkness of mental illness into the light of hope.
Sister Dottie understood the gospel of peace and she lived it. Her unfailing pursuit of justice for the “least of the brethren of Jesus Christ” had a profound impact on me. In time, her mission became the center of my life's work.
There is no way to measure the gift Sister Dottie was in my life. The best I can do is to take her precious Light and pass it on.
Peggy J. Symons Copyright
23 March 2007
Thank you for your letter and the copies of the two articles you have written. I appreciate knowing how active you have been in the fight against the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
Like you, I am watching closely the progress of Senate Bill 558, The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007. The staff of The Carter Center Mental Health Program has been working directly with staff in Representative Patrick Kennedy's office monitoring the progress of parity legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We are seeking their advice on how best I might help and then will act accordingly.
I am pleased to know we have such eloquent advocates like you helping to improve the lives of Americans who have mental illnesses.
With best wishes,
Copyright Peggy J. Symons
In Memory of My Friend:
Dr. Walter J.Muller
June 14, 1934-April 13, 2019
On May 10, 2019, All Saints Episcopal Church in Winter Park, Florida held a beautiful service celebrating the life of my friend, Dr. Walter J. Muller.
I knew Dr. Muller for 44 years, 34 years as my doctor and then onto the rest of his life as my good friend. After he retired we began to collaborate on a book about living with mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia.
Although the book was never published, it was interesting to look back over the life and accomplishments of an extraordinary man.
Several years after we started the book we came across notes of 1970’s lecture on schizophrenia.
This is what Dr. Muller wrote:
People with schizophrenia:
Have great sensitivity
Great sense of humanity
Have great resiliency.
Have great courage
If you want a true friend, pick someone with schizophrenia.
Why psychiatrists choose to treat these patients:
This remarkable view of schizophrenia is as revolutionary now as it was in the 1970s.
The notes were also bullet points right into the heart of stigma. Schizophrenia was so stigmatizing it was banished from the conversation and hidden in state institutions.
In the 1970s this illness had a chronic grip; there was nowhere to get out of its way or pacify its relentless course into hopelessness. For thousands, schizophrenia was either a life sentence or a death sentence. This illness is still accompanied by high rates of suicide.
Dr. Muller’s interest in serious illnesses began while he was a young resident in psychiatry at Cornell University’s New York Hospital.
He witnessed the fate of schizophrenia which was often repeated hospitalizations with no alternatives or hope of achieving meaningful lives.
Dr. Muller knew there had to be a better way. He brought an unheard-of plan of community residential treatment for young people with schizophrenia to his supervisors who told him he was a daydreamer to go back and finish his paperwork. But he didn’t let go of this remarkable vision.
When he finished his residency he and his wife, Delle, stepped into uncharted territory. At the time there was no model of residential treatment of schizophrenia to pattern their plans.
After settling in Winter Park the Muller’s and a small group of dedicated volunteers refurbished a quaint, yellow wooden house on the corner of Canton and Knowles Street in downtown Winter Park. They named this unassuming residence La Amistad, which means house of friendship.
They welcomed twelve young people with serious mental illnesses into homelike surroundings. Over the years hundreds of residents came and went. It was a seemingly impossible vision but they made it work.
Because of Dr. Muller’s compassionate and innovative understanding of mental illnesses, many people who would have spent their entire lives in state hospitals or died in despair went on to meaningful lives. As a 1970’s resident of La Amistad I often saw hope poured into people who, in many minds, were hopelessly ill. I am one.
Dr. Muller persevered in the treatment of serious mental illnesses for forty years.
Along the way he lived to see the biological foundation of mental illnesses firmly established, the birth of advocacy and the current revolution in the perception of these illnesses led by an army of young people.
Dr. Muller was a pioneer and a visionary. He was a man of honor and a doctor of distinction.
He is missed but the light of his vision and compassionate care lives on in many people.
Hope was the gift of his calling.
MY FAMILIES JOURNEY INTO HOPE
The Genetic Study of Schizophrenia;
National Institute of Mental Health
been several years since my family
and I found a description of the Genetic Study of Schizophrenia in the “Advocate”, a quarterly publication of National Alliance on Mental Illness.
research is an ongoing study at the
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland.
Researchers are looking very closely at the genetic and non- genetic factors that raise the risks for schizophrenia.
Of eight siblings, I am the only one with a schizophrenic disorder.
applied to this study knowing that this research is generating information giving neuroscience the keys that
are beginning to break into the complex biological codes of
At the time, my brother’s business interest was providing computer technologies to researchers studying the genetic abnormalities within the full and complex human genome.
He recognized the neuro-imaging and genetic technologies as the most advanced tools of neuroscience in the world.
We embraced the opportunity to benefit others with this disorder.
This particular study, one of several, compared the genetic differences between siblings who are affected by schizophrenia and those who aren’t.
It was an opportunity for seven siblings to add an unusual wealth of information to research.
We were accepted into the study and welcomed as respected and valued partners in this pioneering research.
The National Institute of Mental Health arranged our flight schedules, hotel bookings, and testing days to maximize the rare time we had to spend together.
The study was a fast moving two days of detailed magnetic resonance imaging, interviews, and neuropsychological testing.
Other than a routine blood draw, there was no invasive testing.
family, the long road to the genetic
study of schizophrenia began almost three decades before.
hospitalized in 1975 after a three year slide into a psychotic
I fell into the hands of a psychiatrist who psychoanalyzed my hallucinations and assessed my entire family as“schiziophrenigenic”
the fact that neurobiological anarchy was sweeping through my brain like a forest fire, realitybegan to dawn
on me by 1979: I had seven brothers and sisters and none of them were like me.
They were all working, going to school, or were in college.
We were of the same parents, and we were all raised by a courageous and hard-working single mother who loved us all.
I was different from early in life.
As a young adult, hallucinations and depression were taking over my entire life.
None of my
brothers and sisters had ever
been brought to their knees by visions and voices and depression that paralyzed even my will to live.
I knew my family was not doing this to me; there was something wrong with my brain.
I found another psychiatrist who remained with me for twenty-five years as a constant source of expertise and encouragement.
Looking back from 2009, I call the primitive and hopeless psychiatry of the 1970s the “dungeons of the day.”
Old Freudian ideas that twisted the psychiatry of schizophrenia away from the brain onto blaming families were still widely held.
It was a dated era still spun with mythically monstrous mothers named and blamed as “schiziophrenigenic mothers”
psychoanalytic psychiatry of the 1970s perpetuated the influence of a century of Freudian ghosts that
linger to this day as
the deep shroud of shame, guilt, and misunderstanding that continues to obscure the neurobiological legitimacy of this illness.
Before we left the NIMH, I talked to the lead investigator of the study.
I told him
what it was like for me coming from the “dungeons of the day” 28 years ago to be working with the NIMH as a
full and respected partner in research that I never thought would happen in my lifetime.
At the time, I was told that five or six genes increasing the risk for schizophrenia had been discovered.
There are now many more genes suspected to have a role in this illness.
empowering character of this progress is a
clear and bright light of new hope and promise moving at light speed in the right direction.
It is a privilege to be part of this revolution in neuroscience.
that with more study volunteers
like my family and I, the complex puzzles and codes of mental illnesses will be mapped out and solved in our lifetimes.
Looking back at the NIMH study, I can see my brothers and sisters in the full light of their loyalty and love.
all indicted as “schiziophrenigenic” 34 years ago, but when this illness threatened to take me
away from them, they rose to the challenge and held out their hands to me in the moments that I otherwise would have drowned.
them were younger than I was when
this illness swept out of hell, yet they have travelled this distance with me unafraid.
They have made my life richer, funnier, and filled to overflowing as a sister, an aunt and a friend.
Without them, it would have been a dark and difficult journey.
With them, we walked this 34 year road out of darkness into daybreak.
Peggy J. Symons
National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
Common warning signs of suicide.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.
Bullying: An Appeal to Hero’s Hearts
This is a story about the heart of a hero.
I attended a Catholic school for several years. By seventh grade I was clearly struggling with a mental illness. But all of us wore the same socks and uniforms and I was never bullied in a school atmosphere that required respect for other students.
Transferring into the public-school system was a shock. Between wearing a uniform for so long and cluelessness and I had no idea what to wear the first day of school. I looked in my closet and pulled out a red skirt, a purple blouse and red sneakers along with socks. I had no idea at the time, public school girls didn’t wear socks or red sneakers.
From the first day I was a target for ridicule and rejection. Among other things I was quickly labeled with the name of a bear on a TV show. When I was taking a shower after gym class the kids took the clothes I put on a hook outside the shower and threw them into a sink full of water. Before class they took my books and put them on top of the public address box near the ceiling where I couldn’t reach them before substitute teachers stopped it.
In November, my mother allowed me to walk up to the neighborhood shopping center to buy a jacket. I bought a blue size twenty jacket although I was a size fourteen because I thought I was getting more material for my money. Looking back, wearing the jacket to school was a mistake; it was so big I was probably floating in it. The other kids spotted the ill-fitting jacket immediately and it became the object of more ridicule.
One time, uninvited and unexpected, I sat down at a table in the cafeteria with a group of popular students.
One boy was so embarrassed his face flushed red and he left the table. No one wanted to be seen with me. I was weird, overweight, had unwashed frizzy hair and could not relate to the other kids.
I felt totally alone even though there were hundreds of students in my school. I could not find friends on my own because I had difficulty communicating like everyone else.
The bullying and rejection hurt me as if I was being stabbed by a knife. I could not fight back. I didn’t know how.
Let me tell you about a boy named Bob. He sat next to me in math class. He was friendly, popular and a good student. I was the weirdest, ugliest, most unpopular kid in the school.
But Bob talked to me in full view of the other kids risking his own good standing with them. He joked around and treated me the same way he treated his other friends.
About half way through the year he invited me over to his house to look through his new telescope. I saw the moon up close and how bright the stars were through the lens of the telescope and the respect of my friend.
Finding friends in kids who are being bullied is the truest test of a hero’s heart. It is doing what is unpopular or even laughed at.
Like Bob, heroes have the courage to split off from what other kids think and reach out to kids who are being torn to pieces by bullying because they have a mental illness; kids who can be rejected and avoided as the weirdest kids in the whole school.
It’s easy to see hero’s when they run into burning buildings to pull others to safety or come to the rescue of someone who is drowning. It’s harder to see the hero’s hearts of kids who see the helpless pain and desperate loneliness of bullied kids and pull them to safety in the hands of friendship.
When Bob reached out and befriended me he rescued me from the torment of rejection, loneliness and hopelessness.
I lost track of Bob after high school but I will never forget a hero’s heart because my friend turned towards me, instead of away. He pulled me into the safety of complete acceptance.
I will never forget Bobs kindness and the risks he took to be my friend.
I will never forget my hero.
Peggy J. Symons Copyright
The Gift of a Captive Mind Continues to be Written.
The original title of this book was Mental Illness: Notes of a Native in the Night. Over time, notes became stories and then pages and chapters.
As I wrote, I began to see the value of The
Gift of a Captive Mind filling out the academic presentation of mental illnesses.
The Captive Mind doesn’t contradict the facts and statistics essential to the academic press, instead, it writes between the lines with the actual experiences of living with these illnesses.
In the end,The Gift of a Captive Mind
becomes a gift for every mind.
It tunnels through a lifelong illness and comes out into the places we are all alike in one way or another.
Whether or not we have a mental illness we
are all running the same rapids.
But it is also important to know these disorders can be persistent, biological and there are currently no cures. So, it is not possible to tell the story of a Captive Mind and put false faces on these illnesses lest anyone who walks this way become discouraged in their own struggle to survive.
Like many others I live with sufficient remnants of this illness and its habits of reemergence that I would never leave any impression I have walked completely away from a serious mental illness in some act of high- held virtue.
During the time The Gift of a Captive Mind
was written, I finished a book about thirty years of posttraumatic stress disorder and finding my way out.
It took thirteen years to write.
Someday, I hope it will lead others out of the captivity of Post-Traumatic Stress.
Capturing Rosalyn Carter,
Rosalyn Carter was first lady to President Jimmy Carter. She was a passionate, public and powerful advocate for people dealing with mental illnesses.
At the time she wrote this letter (March 23, 2007) Mrs. Carter was a high profile ally of the national push to enact laws mandating insurance coverage for mental illnesses and substance use to be equal to other medical conditions.
On October 3, 2008, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed into law.
I hope Mrs. Carter is remembered for the lantern of hope she carried and her willingness to pursue justice on behalf of people who have no voice.
Millions were touched by her light.
Fund mental care before a tragedy
Orlando Sentinel -Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Since the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado 15 years ago, one mass murder after another has shaken
the nation. The latest rampage was at the hands of a California man who had a long history of mental illness.
It is a grave error to look away from the high-profile tragedies seizing other states with the complacent illusion that somehow Florida is immune from the toll and consequences of untreated mental illnesses.
Keeping in mind that people living with serious mental illnesses are overwhelmingly nonviolent, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a small fraction of individuals who do become violent, almost always in the absence of treatment and modern medications.
Legitimate debate over how to prevent further loss of life is breaking out all over the nation, including Florida. Searching for answers to violence and mental illnesses must encompass the fact that the greatest loss of life to mental illness in Florida isn't to homicide; it is to suicide and early death accruing through decades of restricted access to timely and effective psychiatric services.
Suicide rates are rising; 2,922 people in Florida ended their lives in 2012. More than 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness.
In addition, nearly two-thirds of those suffering with these diseases of the brain are not receiving treatment.
More than two dozen psychiatric hospitals have closed since 1995, leaving thousands of the most acutely ill people in the state nowhere to go.
These statistics are a sliver of Florida's fatally flawed policy of neglecting serious mental illnesses.
Prejudice and discrimination have put serious mental illnesses at the back of the bus for decades; yet lawmakers never seem to see the collision between failed public policy and preventable loss of life.
Predictably, the 2014 Legislature convened and adjourned leaving Florida stubbornly stuck at 49th in the nation for funding community-level psychiatric care.
Until the state of Florida is stunned into action by a sudden strike of violence, significant reform of one of the nation's most inadequate and underfunded mental-health systems will remain mired in low priorities and the hidden suffering of thousands of people, including children, who are shut out of any hope of recovery from serious mental illnesses.
There are warning bells tolling through every life lost to mental illnesses. We cannot turn away as if we do not hear; the bells are tolling for us.
Mental illness treatment left out of Parkland shooting
Intense media coverage of the school-shooting rampage that left 17 people dead is creating a detailed picture of what happened. However, there are missing tornadoes in the multitude of these accounts.
The hardest hitting is failure to spotlight the magnitude of suicides associated with mental illnesses. People are ending their own lives at a rate over double that for homicides and at numbers that exceed traffic fatalities. Ninety percent had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, including concealed depression.
Without fully assessing the shocking death toll of those with mental illnesses, there is no cohesive vision to bring the treatment of mental illnesses to the forefront of legislative priorities.
Relatively small bumps in funding sideswipe the truth: Mental illnesses in Florida are seared with hopelessness. We remain immovably present at the bottom of the nation for per-capita spending on mental illnesses in spite of a deep need and some dedicated lawmakers who have already tried to pursue a path forward.
Given the staggering death toll associated with these common disorders of the brain, we can’t do anything less — not without compromising the right to life.
Peggy Symons of DeLand, Florida
February 26, 2018
Letters to the editor Thursday, October 23, 2014
Daytona Beach News-Journal
Greatest toll of gun violence
Mary Sanchez’s Oct. 13 column, “Guns, mental illness equal tragedy,” considers the impact of neglecting these illnesses with an indisputable point: Some of our most profoundly ill citizens are falling through the cracks of a deeply flawed mental health system and landing with deadly force.
Contrary to the high-profile violence that keeps grabbing headlines, the greatest toll of mental illnesses isn’t murder — it is suicide. Suicide outnumbers homicide at a rate of approximately 2-to-1, and 90 percent of those who die by their own hands have a diagnosable mental illness. Any other medical condition with preventable mortality rates this high would command swift, decisive and newsworthy action.
But we continue to pursue a path of complacency rife with imminent danger. Unfortunately, Florida is leading the way, at 49th in the nation for per-capita spending on mental illnesses. Two-thirds of those in need of psychiatric services, including children and teens, are going without treatment. Every year the hope of families desperate for psychiatric services rises and then falls as the Florida Legislature makes annual budget decisions that segregate mental illnesses into a category of conditions deemed to be unworthy of medical care. It is unthinkable that we would deny medical treatment, hospital services and social assistance to people suffering with cancer and heart disease or turn them out onto the streets to die, become homeless, imprisoned or victims of violent crimes, but it is to this measure we have abandoned our mentally ill.
The greatest toll of mental illnesses comes with the death of hope. Suicide is the mortal wound of despair.
The best way to disarm mental illnesses is to provide immediate access to effective psychiatric services before these treatable disorders of the brain take their last breath in preventable acts of violence.
Peggy J. Symons
Care could save lives, money
The News-Journal's front-page focus on Florida's failed mental health system was well-timed and graphically accurate.
Although violence is not inherent to mental illness, the shootings in Newtown, Conn., have pushed
Florida's response to mental illness into the headlines.
The neurobiological legitimacy of mental illnesses has been established for decades. However, the belief that these illnesses are character flaws or the consequence of personal irresponsibility are still widely held stereotypes. Unfortunately, they continue to drive funding decisions in Florida.
Without understanding the costly consequences, slashing funds for psychiatric services and modern medications creates an avalanche of losses, most of them hidden.
Mental illnesses, like any other medical condition, can get worse without treatment. Long waits for appointments and restricting access to medication creates dismal outcomes. Of note, Harvard Medical School found that missing as few as one day to 10 days of antipsychotic medications doubles the risk of hospitalization.
In addition, mental illnesses in Florida are still shackled to inappropriate criminalization. At the rate Florida is using prisons for hospitals, taxpayers are on the hook for $3.6 billion in the next 10 years to build and operate new state prisons. Without fundamental reform of the criminalization of mental illness, taxpayers will continue to feed a perpetual-motion machine with grinding jaws.
But the ultimate cost of mental illness is suicide. Suicides now outnumber traffic fatalities. Ninety percent of those who commit suicide have diagnosable and treatable mental illnesses. The measure of suffering imposed by mental illnesses is in these numbered lives; many of whom had no hope of help.
Clearly, the most expensive treatment of mental illness is no treatment. Florida's mental-health system is in critical condition. Our legislators must reframe funding decisions based on Florida's facts. When people with mental illnesses win, everyone wins.
PEGGY J. SYMONS
of DeLand, Florida
Capturing Esmine Green
I have come to bring Ms. Esmine Green out of the shadows of lost hope and cries of unheard anguish.
On June 19, 2009, Ms. Green was taken by ambulance to Kings County Hospital in New York City acutely ill with schizophrenia.
She sat and waited over 24 hours until blood clots formed and killed her.
Although she writhed, fell out of her chair onto the floor and died, she was ignored until a worker finally came over, pushed her with his foot and saw she was dead.
Evidence of her death and the circumstances in which she died were immediately scurried away in falsified documents. Ms. Green died waiting for help that never came.
I will never forget the brutal force of indifference to her suffering or the global news and outrage covering her 24 hours in hell.
I also knew Ms. Green would be quickly and completely forgotten-and she was.
The helpless horror of the way she died disappeared as fast as it burned the news but conscience and accountability were standing by with a note pad.
Everything was video recorded and subsequently obtained by the Americans for Civil Liberties Union.
The city settled with her family for two million dollars but what price was paid for the violence of indifference?
Ms. Green was not a captive of bygone era; she was captive of a place she didn’t matter.
We should not forget her story; she left red flags flying over indifference. It is the nucleus of neglect and the crown jewel of hidden abuse.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
THE DYING BIRD
Sometimes violence is in the eyes of the beholder.
This is a true story.
I had taken my friends dog to the vet. As the dog and I were settling our account at the front desk, a young man came through the front door. His hands were cupped together, he was holding something. He looked to be in his twenties and was obviously mentally ill. He had long, dark hair flying everywhere. He was also dressed in rags, I had little doubt that he was homeless as well.
When he approached the desk I could see he was holding a badly injured bird in his hands. He asked the ladies at the desk if the vet would take care of the bird.
Whether it was because he was mentally ill or poor or that it was true they didn’t take care of birds, they sent him away with the injured bird in his hands.
As my own tears fell I thought the world has it all backwards; it isn’t always the violence caused by people who live with mental illnesses that steals from society; it is the hardness of heart that sees our humanity and turns away.
I don’t know what happened to the bird or where the young man went, but I will never forget what compassion looks like when it is cradled as a dying bird in the hands of a human being who is mentally ill and homeless.
Peggy J. Symons of Deland, Florida
Copyright © Peggy J. Symons
Mental Ilnesses and Mental Health: Capturing the Slippery Bridge
Another article on death due to “mental health disorders” captures the slippery bridge between mental health and mental illness.
What seems a minor twist of language is a symptom of a broad national consensus to engage the words “mental health” and pretend they mean mental illness.
Misappropriating “mental health” is so deeply entrenched it is difficult to refer to these disorders of the brain without using deceptively uniform language that corrupts the biological nature of these hard hitting diseases.
Stripped of charades, the irrelevant words “mental health” are a wink and a nod hiding an insurgent truth
America’s “mental health” system is fractured, failed and vastly underfunded, leaving millions of people behind with no hope of recovery.
In a travesty of mistaken identities, one in five individuals, including many children, are struggling to survive brain diseases with extraordinary mortality rates but their “mental health conditions” makes it easy to deny treatment and modern medications and then turn away from the death and devastation that follows. We are hiding their hopelessness in a familiar clash of opposing words.
Ninety percent of those who end their own lives have a diagnosable mental illness. Virtually meaningless “mental health disorders” do not drive people to suicide; mental illnesses do.
Switching illness for health allows us to bury this massive loss of life in an avalanche of indifference without bearing the weight of conscience.
In addition, these neurological disorders are the only medical conditions overshadowed with sufficient fictional license to blur the boundaries between illness and health; a substantial mistake that further minimizes the crushing power of these illnesses and dismisses the suffering they cause as less than real.
Finally, these brazenly contradictory terms become outright ludicrous when we seal our most seriously ill citizens in the “mental health” sections of our jails and prisons.
We are hiding one of the deepest moral failures of our times in jail jumpsuits-out of sight-out of mind.
We have coddled the incongruence between mental health and mental illness too long. It serves no purpose except to hide the way we treat our mentally ill.
The evidence keeps pouring in; the disparate corollary between mental health and mental illness isn’t innocent; it is disastrous.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
I am bringing thousands of people with mental illnesses with me.
Many are silenced by stigma and discrimination; others cannot tell the stories of the life and death impact of delays and denials of psychiatric medicines.
The people I speak for have serious mental illnesses. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and suicidal despair are not mental health disorders. They are caused by real, life threatening, physical ravages in the function of the brain. Ninety percent of those who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental illness.
Before expertly and tediously prescribed modern medicines schizophrenia was either a life sentence or a death sentence; I lost half my life to it.
I failed on over thirty medications before my doctors finally found the right medications at the right doses. Failing on some of these medicines was like getting hit by a truck; hospitalization followed.
It is critical to note many psychiatric medications don’t work the same way; in addition, the function of the brain is individually unique and extraordinarily complex; medications that can save the life of one person can send someone else to the hospital. Carefully prescribed and balanced, our medications can build some beautiful bridges between what is broken by the physiology of mental illnesses and a meaningful life.
For me, as for others, missing one dose of carefully and individually prescribed medication, or the wrong medicine, begins to break the fragile bridges between hope and hopelessness.
In fact, Harvard Medical School found that missing from one to ten days of antipsychotic medications doubles the risk of hospitalization; its three days for me.
It is far easier and less expensive to prevent a psychiatric collapse than have to go back and pick up the pieces of the shattered hope of a meaningful life.
The future is closing in on mental illnesses. Science and suffering will join hands and then move on having created better treatments and medications and eventually cures. Research will eventually free us but for now, granting doctors the unimpeded ability to prescribe the right medicines at the right time at the right doses is the best hope of surviving these sometimes rapidly moving, too often deadly illnesses.
These difficult disorders of the brain don’t dwell on either side of a partisan divide; they dwell in families. One in five of us will have a mental illness at some point. No one is immune; not by wealth or estate, male or female, young or old. Stepping up to the Florida Legislature to represent all of us is both honorable and difficult.
Right now, we are at the intersection where many lost lives can become meaningful lives. If we look deeply into the faces of serious mental illnesses we will see our own humanity in these crossroads.
Time is turning in the light of this shared vision. There is a profound communion between hope and responsibility in our hands; what we do now will determine the future of mental illnesses in Florida.
Unfettered access to psychiatric medicines is the foundation of hope and the bridge into normal lives.
Never doubt you are appreciated.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
CENTER STAGE FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
- Friday, March 22, 2002
As the date of the Academy Awards approaches, once again A Beautiful Mind is on the American mind.
The box-office draw of the story of the Nobel Prize
winner John Nash's journey through life with schizophrenia has pulled this
illness out of the dark and dusty basement of non-awareness right onto center
stage. It has created a bridge of shared experience as the story of Nash's life
unfolds with some striking parallels to my own experience of living with a
The frightening intensity of Nash's delusional world
was so authentically presented that I, of all people, thought it was real.
In the three months since the release of A Beautiful Mind, the widely
held stereotypes that we are categorically violent people or "split
personalities" are yielding to the understanding of just how human we are. There is a new understanding that a person living with schizophrenia can have a beautiful mind. People are now asking who we are. They are beginning to
understand our humanity and that this is an illness of intense impact. It is no
one's fault, and it is never a choice.
Neuroscience is advancing on
schizophrenia, but it is a complex, chronic and challenging disorder. It will
give up its secrets slowly. The current focus on mental illness is an
opportunity of immediate relevance to present the needs of mentally ill people
as issues of substance. One in five families is struggling with the brain
disorders causing mental illnesses.
If anyone is looking for us, many of
us are behind the locked doors of prisons. Often we are arrested for our
symptoms rather than for true criminal intent. It is illegal to lie on park
benches or trespass on Dumpsters.
As funding for vital mental-health services dwindles, prisons have become the de facto psychiatric hospitals of the 21st century. Reduced to dollars and no sense, the costs of jailing us are more expensive than it would be to treat us. We exist behind the locked doors of "no access" to effective treatment. We live behind the walls of stigma and misunderstanding. This is where much of our humanity remains hidden.
It has been through the new lens of A Beautiful Mind that we have been given the vision to understand, to value and to respect the inner beauty of so many people like John Nash, walking through life with chronic, severe mental illnesses.
These are our neighbors and our loved ones. Who will see their inner beauty and who will know their names? How do we answer the age-old question of conscience and responsibility? Am I my brother's keeper?
If my brothers and sisters are the most profoundly ill and vulnerable among us, then, yes, the answer always comes back close to me:
I am my brother's keeper.
Memo: PeggySymons lives in Deland,Florida. She is a member of the
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Mental
LOVE LIGHTS CHAOS OF MENTAL ILLNESS
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL - Friday, January 14, 2000
Author: Peggy Symons , Special to the Sentinel
Who are these mentally ill people? They live under the interstate overpasses of every major
city. Some sit locked away in prisons, talking to voices no one else can hear. They are voiceless; they are faceless. They are my less-fortunate mentally ill brethren. They look like me. They are my
Mental illness, with all its terrible power and consequences, swept out of hell, and struck me down at age 19, as I grew into adulthood. Schizoaffective disorder is a biologically determined brain disease that has symptoms of both schizophrenia and depression. Like all major mental illnesses, it is caused by a devastating disruption of the finely balanced chemistry of the brain.
All my off-and-on time in the hospitals presented the still-unanswered question, ``Why did this happen?'' I was just starting a very promising college career, and my hopes and dreams for the future were solid and intact. Perhaps, in my lifetime, as the mysteries of the human brain unfold, I will know why.
Instead of focusing on why I became mentally ill, I seek to define my purpose. I look for a reason and direction to evolve from the chaos of my illness. During the years, sometimes the direction that this schizoaffective disorder has taken me appears to be a downward spiral. Through depression, psychotic thinking and impaired functioning, it has dragged me through hell with no apparent purpose or mercy. With expert management of medicines that have sometimes helped, I emerge with new eyes and gratitude. I see the world and other people from a newly visible land of the living.
At these times I experience life with a new quality and dimension, with a depth of understanding that can be experienced only by someone who has journeyed through hell and by the grace of God has emerged alive and intact. I have come to know the deepest currents of the human condition. I know fear. I know pain and despair, and I have touched the face of death. But, most of all, I know love. I know the love of God and the love of the people who cared for me. They never abandoned me even as I slipped away from them.
For 23 years my long-term support group has met every week. All of us have major mental illnesses. We have moved into midlife together, meeting every Friday to gather enough courage from each other to go out, each week, and keep trying. We have learned from each other that mental illness in no way diminishes anyone's humanity. We are all people, whatever the state of the chemistry of our brains.
The darkness of mental illness has sensitized me to the goodness and warmth of other people. I look for it. I reach for it. And, when I find it, I treasure it.
I share this account of schizophrenia and depression to illustrate the essential humanity of mentally ill people. It speaks of what I know of the light that illuminates all souls, mentally ill or not. This is the light that binds us all together, for better or worse, in this sometimes-leaky human boat. As I search for a way to tell people who never gave up on me how much they've meant, and I think of the people under overpasses and the people locked away in the prisons of their own minds, I remember something the son of God said in Matthew 25:40: Whatsoever you shall do unto the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.
Memo: Peggy Symons is a long-distance bicycle rider and lives in Chuluota with her cat, Lambie.
Edition: METRO Section: EDITORIAL Page: A15
Column: OTHER VIEWS MY WORD Index Terms: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Record Number: 0001140129 Copyright 2000 Sentinel Communications Co.
THE HOPE GIVERS
Hope is a fragile flame and a bright light. It is easy to give and even easier to take away. Once the flame of hope is lit it must be carefully kept and kindled.
When hope burns brightly there is fire in its feet and the breath of life is on its lips.
There is purity in its purpose, vision in its light and healing in its truth.
Whether we teach, write, counsel or mop the halls the hopeless walk we are all called to be hope givers and keepers of the flame.
Blessed are the hope givers.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
By Peggy J. Symons
They steal in on airways,
Reserved for what is real,
Make my thoughts all frightened slaves,
And twist the way I feel.
They'll never walk away with me,
or steal what I love,
they'll never snatch away my key,
to God and human love.
So, I walk in quiet courage
As all around me spins,
And come to know the strength I wage,
I know what's real wins.
© copyright Peggy J. Symons
The Gift of a Captive Mind
I am currently writing the Gift of a Captive Mind. It is new.
The only voices in the Captive Mind are those of the narrator. It is not a collection of other peoples stories either.
It is simply written to fill out academic presentations of mental illnesses with the actual experiences of living with them.
The purpose is also to highlight the grief and losses that come with mental illnesses so that the suffering of individuals and families will never be discounted or shuffled away unseen and without hope.
I don’t know when the Gift of a Captive Mind will be finished but the end is in sight.
I have never been part of any other book on mental illness that has any hope of coming into the light of day.