By Sharon Swanson, NAMI Hernando Board of Director
More then twenty five years ago I was married to a good husband and father to our five children. I worked in the field Of substance abuse and mental health. One of the five; Steven had substance abuse and mental health problems. Steve was treated several times and would do well and then he would relapse. When other families talked about their children’s achievements we were worried about Steve dying. Our family reacted with love, support, resentment and despair.
On June 4th, 1994 My son put a rope around his neck and hung himself. Steve’s siblings reacted with screams of disbelief and pain . My husband and I clung together in a grief reaction that was both physical and emotional that was anchored in guilt. My professional friends made remarks like “Steve was a coward”. Why ? If you were a professional, Why didn’t you know? Friends would not even talk about his suicide and his previous treatment for mental health issues.
The clergy had a brief discussion about him being laid to rest in consecrated ground. Every support system that I relied on had collapsed. Even writing this twenty five years later causes me to remember and still cry over the loss of our son and my other children’s brother. The only non judgmental support I received was from NAMI.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness knew our despair and isolation. We learned that one in five have mental Illness. It’s treatment is not equitable with other treated medical problems. In the past twenty five years the stigma has ameliorated but still exists and I vowed to never forget the help I received from NAMI.
I also promised to never stop advocating, educating and supporting people and families suffering from mental illness. I’ve learned that people have mental illness. They who deserve not to be seen as just mentally Ill, they deserve the same dignity and respect that we give to people with other illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. When this happens the stigma goes away and real help can be delivered.