Why You Should Speak Out: Helping Others By Telling Our Stories


8-15-2014               From My Files Friday : Your words matter!

 A mother wrote to me several years ago about her adult son, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but had refused to see a psychiatrist or accept her help. He became more and more distraught and psychotic but there was little she could do because he was not a danger to himself or anyone else and he was convinced that there was nothing wrong with him.
I remember writing her an encouraging note and  wondering later what had happened to her and her son.  More than a year later, sent me this note and gave me permission to share it with you.
 I just want to tell you how, I believe, that you helped to get my son into treatment that he has steadfastly resisted for these many years. I think I told you of the difficult time I have had to get him to cooperate and to take his medicine correctly for his bi-polar. After he became diabetic too, he was just as much in denial and un-cooperative. I was paying for his apartment and knew he was not taking care of himself. However, he would refuse all of my offers to help him wash his clothes, clean his apartment or any other assistance. His siblings were, also, turned down. He withdrew from all of us.

 Finally, I came to the conclusion that it would only be when he hit “rock bottom” that he MIGHT want help. The day before I was to leave on a trip, he called me and asked for help. On my return, I got him into an assisted living home. He is now 100% better. His diabetes is under control and he is very stable with the bi-polar.  I don’t know where we go from here but I am happy, for now, that he is clean and well cared for.
 In cleaning his extremely dirty apartment, I came across a little cache of newspaper clippings and papers  that he had been carrying in his pockets for some time. All these years he had avoided reading anything that I have suggested to learn more about his illness. He didn’t even want to hear the words mental illness and would get mad at me any time I mentioned it.
I discovered he had been carrying an article that you had written concerning a doughnut business somewhere that was stigmatizing to the mentally ill. The article was so greasy and worn that I could barely read it but I could see you had written it and you told of your son’s illness and your struggle to get help for him. The main thing I think that caught his attention was that mental illnesses should be accepted as any other illness of the body without the shame and stigma surrounding it.
  I don’t  know what brought him to his senses but I really think your article helped to get him to where he is now.
It is flattering to think that something I wrote encouraged her son. But the reason why I am sharing this mother’s email is not because I want to pat myself on the back.
Rather it is to make a point.
The article that her son was carrying appeared in USA TODAY and can be read here.   I complained in it about a California business named Psycho Donuts which made fun of persons with mental illnesses. I wrote the editorial because I wanted to speak out against stigma. The thought that a man in his 60s with a mental illness might read the article and it might help him seek treatment never entered my mind.
 And that’s the point.
 We often don’t know the impact of our actions when we speak out on behalf of persons with mental illnesses, fight stigma, or call for mental health reforms. We don’t know how our words may affect someone else — even years after we have spoken them. This is why we need to continue to talk and write about these issues even when it seems that no one may be listening.  Remember, you may never know who you are helping when you tell your story — and you will never help anyone if you assume no one is listening and miss an opportunity by remaining silent.
(A variation of this blog was first published in 2010. Mental illness never takes a vacation, but I do.  I will be publishing guest blogs and some of my most popular while I am away. I hope all of you are enjoying the final days of summer. Thanks, as always, for your support.   Pete Earley)
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.