In the days of old, there was absolutely no understanding of what we now call mental illness. If you looked down a busy residential street with houses in rows unbeknownst to most folks there would be at least one house out of ten holding a deep dark secret. Back then, in the 1800’s and early 1900’s people did not know what to do with their mentally ill relative. There was a choice to go to an “asylum” which were originally built to protect the community from tuberculosis. These “insane asylums” as they were called were described like a madhouse filled with women and men who were literally crying out for help. No medication was prescribed except ultra doses of Thorazine. Have you ever heard of the Thorazine Shuffle? I have not only heard of it, I did the dance! The feeling of being under the influence of Thorazine can only be described as a deep-seated lethargic haze where your heart and other organs are slowed down so much that it is almost impossible to speak without slurring or, again, walk. Worse than that is the dry mouth. Thorazine does a real number on your mouth. It dries it up so parched that sometimes your tongue sticks out. Here’s a piece of Mental Health Madness: People on Thorazine drank so much water that they actually died from drinking too much water! The thirst can not be quenched! A therapist told me that wonderful tidbit of information. Yes, folks, not only were these people suffering from a bad case of schizophrenia (that was like a “cover-diagnosis” for everyone), but the horrible fact that some would die of drinking too much water!
Going back to the deep dark secret that people held with tight silent lips, there were actually mentally ill relatives put away in a house. For example, a young girl we’ll call Stacy has a younger sister who suddenly goes into a manic psychotic episode. She tells Stacy that there are men outside who want to kill the family. Stacy doesn’t understand and tells her mother. Her mother (and father) come to Stacy’s sister and question her about this. Stacy’s sister is so afraid, she lies to her parents and tells them that she did not think nor say that. But things get worse with Stacy’s sister (notice she has no name, that is because she soon becomes a no-body.) She finally relents and tells her parents about the men outside. She then adds that there will soon be a national outbreak of millions of dead people walking the earth and stalking the family. At this point the parents would take the daughter to a Psychiatrist where they would be told “I’m sorry to inform you she has Paranoid Schizophrenia and her life is basically never going to be the same. You should not expect her to do anything meaningful in her life and, unfortunately, there is only one option. That is state hospitalization.” At that point the parents decide whether to take their child to a hospital with all sorts of people who have similar problems Or to take her home with medications and take care of her at home. It probably did not start out that they wanted her to live in the attic or basement, hidden from the neighbors, kept quiet from the world, but they felt it deemed necessary due to her behavior.
Well, thank God things have changed for a lot of mentally ill people as there is a belief out there through Mental Health Boards and other organizations that those of us who deal with mental illness not only can stay stable, but thrive! The new concept called “Peer Support” is training for individuals to help others who also suffer from mental illness OR Recovery Coaches who have abstained from substance abuse for at least two years. This new concept has changed hundreds of lives for the better as people are now not only shown respect but have gained employment at mental health agencies!
We have come a long way, baby!