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
In Uncle Mikey’s memory, I would like to share the following
list of tips from NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally
) 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.
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