The Stigma of Mental Illness

On the morning after the tragic death of Robin Williams I find myself thinking about the anguish he lived with for so many years hidden so deep inside so the world would only know the amazing talent he was and his ability to make people laugh. I know he was open about his severe depression but he managed to live his entire life entertaining the world with his astonishing talent and quirkiness he was so known for.

I for one know what it is like to live with mental illness observing my husband on on a daily basis trying to help as a caregiver. My husband’s brother has paranoid schizophrenia. He lived with his parents for many years until their death. They did not provide aftercare for him and my husband found himself to be his caregiver not really understanding his condition and how to help him. His parents did not share the daily trials and tribulations of his daily care with my husband so he was left with a mentally ill sick man who was depending on him for help.

We quickly learned the stigma of a very sick mentally ill man. My husband had to find living arrangement for him, get him a day care center and mental health center to provide a case worker, peer specialist and psychologist who could help him. He is now living in a boarding home which is not the ideal place for him but it is very difficult and not many adequate living facilities for him right now.

A few months ago we received a phone call from his brother telling us he received a citation from the local police department. Okay…now what happened, we asked ourselves? He entered a local store to purchase cigarettes and told the salesperson he was buying cigarettes for minors who were outside the store waiting. They were pestering him to buy the cigarettes for them and with his paranoia, he most likely felt threatened. While he was telling the salesperson what he was doing there was a local policeman standing right next to him listening.

This is why he received a citation and was forced to pay a fine. My husband pleaded not guilty and is appealing the case. There are several problems here that need to be addressed. One…why would a policeman assume he was the perpetrator? What “normal” individual would outwardly admit they were buying cigarettes for minors to the salesman with a policeman standing there. If he had any compassion, he should have talked with my brother-in-law, go outside and talk with the minors and he would most likely figure out my brother-in-law was severely mentally ill. He could have taken him home and the owner of the boarding home would vouch for him or he could have called my husband or myself and we would explain his condition.

My brother-in-law was the victim. He was feeling paranoid because with his deranged thoughts, he felt he was being threatened and had no choice. This is why he told the salesperson. It was his way of asking for help without really doing so because he doesn’t know how to ask for help.

We need training for all law enforcement people who deal with the public in a daily basis. Not only do they need to be aware of the many different mentally ill individuals but they definitely need to know the different between a victim and a perpetrator.

What is wrong with out policemen today. They cannot see beyond who is a victim and who is a dangerous felon such as a young black man innocently walking and being struck down because of he is. Oh well….I suppose this is another soap box I need to stand on in my next blog post!!!

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