For About and By Caregivers
Uncle Mickey and the Pony
By Gary Barg, Editor-in-Chief


One year, many years ago, before my younger brother was born, Uncle Mikey brought a birthday gift to the house for my mom.  I remember that the box was very big, I thought he had bought her a new refrigerator or maybe a pony (hey, I was five years old, it made sense at the time). As she started opening the box, she found that it contained one box after another until the family room floor was littered with discarded cardboard boxes of various sizes. Opening the final box revealed a beautiful black lacquered jewelry box with inlaid Mother of Pearl.  Mike was fun that way, he was fourteen years younger than mom and she adored him and was like a second mother to him.  

Years later, in high school I remember being in Mike’s apartment, assuring him that he was not being spied on by the neighbors and that the mailman was not “out to get him”.  See, Mike was diagnosed with Schizophrenia after his medical discharge from the Army. Mike lived with us for a while and I remember mom spending many days with him at the Miami VA hospital. He then spent years traveling the world. We would receive postcards from Bali and Bangkok as he motorcycled alone across Southeast Asia. Shortly thereafter, Mike disappeared, surfacing only occasionally to call his dad, my grandfather, to wish him a happy birthday or to have money wired to him.  I bring this up because it was six years ago this month that my mom received a phone call from the Nevada authorities that Mike had died of a heart attack. He was 49 years old.

In Uncle Mikey’s memory, I would like to share the following list of tips from NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill  ( )  It may not be a pony, but still another great gift from Mike.

Here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:

  • Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders.  They cannot be overcome through "will power" and are not related to a person's "character" or intelligence.

  • Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability (lost years of productive life) in the North America, Europe and, increasingly, in the world. By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.  

  • Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.

  • The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports;

  • Early identification and treatment is of vital importance; By getting people the treatment they need early, recovery is accelerated and the brain is protected from further harm related to the course of illness.

  • Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.

Gary Barg


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