Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Experienced speakers break mental illness misconceptions

Posted on March 03, 2015 in Community
By dsanok

Last week, the Portland National Alliance on Mental Illness featured a series of presentations at the Wishcamper Center on mental illness. Three people who spoke during the presentation were Creighton Taylor, Karen Evans and Nancy Boucher. Through sharing their personal experiences of resilience and recovery, these three spoke to raise awareness and understanding about the experiences and perspectives of individuals and family members afflicted by mental illness.

Creighton Taylor is a trained support group leader, Family-to-Family teacher, and a member of the Spring Harbor Hospital’s “Linking Families” committee. At the committee she has been working on ways to give families the support they need in order to care for their loved ones with mental illness. Taylor spoke about her son’s struggle with schizophrenia.

“He first showed signs of the illness when he was in college when he started to hallucinate and claim to hear noises,” said Taylor to the audience. “Jake took medications which helped tame his symptoms. For a while, it was effective as he was able to hold a pizza delivery job and make friends. But the medications caused physical illnesses and he ultimately decided to get off the meds which ultimately cost him his job and social life. Since then, his symptoms have returned and we as a family have had to learn to live with it.”

But Taylor did not look at the situation negatively and instead tried to focus on the positives. “Instead of lecturing and scolding my son for his behaviors, I engage with him in positive dialogue and try acting curious about what he hears. If Jake says he hears strange noises, I ask him what he hears instead of telling him to cut it out.”

It is that kind of support that helped Karen Evans overcome her problems with mental illness. Karen Evan’s,like Taylor’s son, has suffered with schizophrenia throughout much of her life. Her presentation was about her life story where she feels that growing up in poverty and being neglected by her parents contributed to the worsening of her symptoms “Having to go to 27 different schools and being given up for adoption as a teenager certainly didn’t help,”explained Evan. “If someone suffering from schizophrenia is not put in a stable environment with loving parents and ends up marrying an abusive husband like I did, the symptoms will get worse”.

More importantly, Taylor wants to try to craft a new perspective on mental illness. In her presentation, she had the audience participate by asking them what words come to mind when people think of mental illness and cancer. The answers from the audience included words such as crazy, dangerous, and stupid while the words that came to mind when people think of cancer included brave, courageous, painful and awareness.

Karen Evans echoed the same sentiments as she described the abusive mental institutions she had been placed in. “There was a complete lack of regard for mentally ill patients. There was rapes and beatings inflicted on patients on a regular basis. What I want people to understand is that mentally ill people suffer most when mistreated by the very institutions designed to help us.”

It stories like Evan’s that continue to inspire people like Taylor to continue educating the public and make people suffering from mental illness be seen and treated the same way cancer patients are.“What I want people to take away from hearing my experience as a mother with a mentally ill son is that he and other people like Karen suffering from the same illness are brave,” Taylor said in her closing statement. “Just like cancer patients, they go through pain in dealing with the situation, but learn to persevere through the challenge. Though the problem does not disappear, having the love and support of family and friends is what can pull a person through those difficulties.”