Overcoming the stigma

Overcoming the stigma

Our son did not die of a drug overdose as was stated in your recent article about Refa’enu (“Hearing, helping each other,” October 31). He died of the complications of a mental illness, much in the same way as a person who has malignant cancer dies of the complications of his or her illness. He died even though he had a loving and supportive relationship with his family, despite having many good friends and doing well in school, and despite having a great sense of humor and a ready smile. He was under the care of a medical professional who prescribed medication to help him with his illness. Unfortunately, as with many of these illnesses, it took only a moment of overwhelming despair to plunge him into hopelessness, and he used the very medications prescribed for him to take his own life.

Even more unfortunate is that our son did not only have to cope with a devastating disease; he had to live with the shame imposed by the stigma associated with it. He had to endure tremendous shame over and above being ill. Had he been able to avail himself of peer group support, perhaps he wouldn’t have had to bear the unbearable. Maybe knowing that there were others like him struggling to overcome the same challenges, he would have drawn strength and been able to realize that his illness was no different from any other. We have no doubt that as his parents, we too would have benefitted from the information and support offered by people in similar circumstances. We have learned an important lesson, albeit too late to help our son. We now understand that keeping this type of illness in the darkness of secrecy serves to provide fertile ground to nurture its growth. Shining a light on it helps to limit the shame and maybe create the opportunity for a better outcome.

Refa’enu, by offering peer support groups for people suffering from anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, etc. and for their friends and family, can help in so many ways. Those attending can draw strength in understanding that they are not alone. They can begin to realize that their illness is no more shameful than any other physical condition, and they can find camaraderie and information from others who “get it.”

Isn’t it about time we learned to help each other this way?