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Here Are The Books That Taught Me How To Help A Mentally Ill Loved One

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Image CreditLiz Henry/Flickr

As a society, we need to understand mental illness, not just to prevent mass shootings but also to address other chronic problems.

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In the space of two weeks, America grieved two horrific mass shootings, in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. Whatever other factors contributed to these tragedies, it is obvious that both shooters suffered from serious mental illness.

Studies have confirmed that a significant proportion of mass shooters have an untreated psychiatric disorder. Yet many downplay this link. It is not politically correct to talk about the connection between mental illness and violence. We don’t want to further stigmatize the mentally ill, do we?

Yet if you love someone with serious mental illness, truth is more important than managing public relations. My oldest son suffers from a psychotic disorder that spun him in and out of psych wards for five years. Thankfully, he found an effective medication and has been following his treatment plan faithfully.

He still has painful challenges. But with God’s help, he has become a published author and valued member of his community, caring for other young adults with physical and mental challenges.

As a society, we need to understand mental illness, especially psychosis, in a way that is both brutally honest and compassionate. This is important not just to prevent mass shootings — shocking but rare — but also to address chronic problems like homelessness. For those who love someone with serious mental illness, like me, the need to know is urgent and personal.

Here are my top resources for understanding the mental illnesses generally understood as schizophrenia spectrum disorders or bipolar/depression with psychosis.

Medical Support

Even though mental illness has been with us since ancient times, many aspects of psychosis remain mysterious. In my opinion, the best scientific and practical resource for understanding schizophrenia is the aptly titled “Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual” by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. It was originally published in 1983 and is now in its 7th edition.

One of the most disturbing symptoms of serious mental illness is anosognosia, the inability to realize that you are sick. When a person lacks insight into his condition, and cannot acknowledge that he needs help, treatment becomes extremely difficult. Dr. Xavier Amador’s book, “I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help!” — in print for more than 20 years — is a practical guide for nudging loved ones with mental illness into accepting treatment.

I have also appreciated the work of Dr. Rob Laitman and his organization Team Daniel. Dr. Laitman is a champion for the misunderstood drug Clozapine. Clozapine is an older drug that is no longer lucrative for Big Pharma. Now there are many newer, sexier, and more expensive medications. My son tried most of them as he rotated in and out of the hospital. Yet Clozapine is the one anti-psychotic medication that gave my son his life back.

Moral Support

It was very helpful for me to hear the stories of other families dealing with serious mental illness. One great resource is the podcast Schizophrenia: Three Moms in the Trenches with Randye Kaye, Mindy Greiling, and Miriam Feldman. I read each of their memoirs, which are heartbreakingly candid: “Ben Behind His Voices,” “Fix What You Can” (Greiling was a state politician for many years), and “He Came in With It: A Portrait of Motherhood and Madness.”

Other excellent memoirs include “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” by Mike Lukach, “Broken Pieces and the God who Mends Them” by Simonetta Carr (from a faith-based perspective), and “The Center Cannot Hold,” a first-person account by distinguished law professor Elyn Saks.

Spiritual Support

I don’t attribute my son’s recovery to biochemistry alone. We are our bodies, for sure, but we are not only our bodies. Illness, especially mental illness, has a spiritual component. During our time of trouble, my family and I experienced the comfort of God’s presence and the encouragement of our church communities. We would not have survived otherwise.

The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation has resources on schizophrenia, as well as information on faithful suffering more generally. I especially appreciated books like “God’s Grace in Your Suffering” by David Powlison. And if you have faith-related qualms about psych medication, I recommend Ed Welch’s balanced approach in “Blame It on the Brain.”

I spent many years wrestling with God over my son’s tragic condition. The trajectory of his life has been non-traditional, to say the least, and not what any mother wants for her child. By studying the ancient wisdom of the Scriptures, especially the book of Job, I finally came to a place of peace and submission to God’s sovereignty. Those who are interested can journey with me in “The Passion of Job: Meditations for When You Hate Your Life.”

As a society, we must face serious mental illness with honesty and compassion. If your loved one is suffering from mental illness, I urge you to be strong, and to learn about effective treatment strategies.

We must not settle for well-meaning actions that are useless at best, harmful at worst. We must not be distracted by politics or side issues. For America, the stakes have never been higher.