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Peterson: Column brings wealth of reader feedback

Last week’s column about the stigma of mental illnesses and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. going into hiding over his “mood disorder” – a mental illness – created an outpouring of correspondence from readers.

Their stories and comments are especially important with last month’s collapse of Family Service and Community Mental Health Center in McHenry. The writers cross all demographic, geographic and political lines. Their stories are touching, and their comments to the point. Most are stories of hope and recovery. And they show the frustration of living with diseases that are stigmatized in a day when understanding and support should reign.

Some names and identifying remarks have been changed to protect their privacy. I turn today’s column over to readers.

I wanted to share how much I appreciated your column, “Disregard stigma and discuss mental illness,” in Friday’s Northwest Herald. As an elected official, I am very visible in the community. That (as well as longtime experience in the mental health field) made what happened in my family this past spring almost unbearable.

• • •

My son has dealt with anger, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, auditory processing disorder and depression for several years. He was in his second semester at college when he called home late one night and said a few things that made me concerned enough to drive more than six hours to get him from college.

A week later, he tried to commit suicide. Luckily, he failed and spent the next few weeks at Alexian Brothers and has been in treatment since then.

It is the stigma that seems the hardest part. Most often, when someone is struggling with cancer, they get sympathy and prayers. That is rarely the case with those struggling with mental-health issues. We even have had immediate family members who can’t understand that this is an illness and not a choice.

My heart breaks for my son. It was nice to see that as someone visible, you wrote about your struggle and also offered hope to others.

We are not at a point yet where my son is at an even level and are in the process of trying to find the right medication. Every day is a new struggle, and we don’t know what mood he will be in. Luckily, I have the education to understand, but it still takes a toll. …

– Mary

• • •

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, my mother suffered from what was then called manic-depressive disease – what I understand is now called bipolar disorder. No one we knew had ever dealt with this, and it took a long time to recognize that there was something terribly wrong in her behavior. She was institutionalized for a time in a state hospital.

In those days, the stigma was even more terrible than it is now, especially when it was known that she was at “Bartonville” – the state hospital near Peoria. That in itself was spoken about in whispers. Among her treatments was electric shock.

When she returned home, she worked very hard to recover. When she would go to town to shop, there were people who would cross the street rather than meet her on the sidewalk. As a teenager, it was an extremely difficult time of life.

My mother “recovered,” relapsed a few years later, but did get to the point where she was quite well mentally, although she had physical issues, and lived a long life.

It is so important that people like you, who have a personal experience with mental illness plus a very public forum for discussion, go the extra mile … to bring this to people’s attention.

– Kathleen

• • •

I, too, have bipolar and am in recovery. It’s sure been a struggle.

I just started with a recovery specialist because of one of your articles, and am winning my fight. I’ve given too much to this disease, and am learning that recovery is hard work.

… You give me hope and make me want to fight another day, sick of being ashamed. What’s so hard is that we look “normal.” Thank you for letting people know that we are a work in progress, and we exist.

– Elaine

• • •

Your testimony is incredibly to the point. I shall research Jackson’s contact and send him a copy of your very honest exposé of this stigma problem. ...

My beloved son, Don, died seven years ago due to mental illnesses, which has led me to serve on the Northwest Suburban 24-7 chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. …

– Gertie

• • •

It was inspiring to read and provides hope for my adult daughter who is recovering from her most recent episode and hospitalization with schizoaffective disorder.

Thank goodness for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Family-to-Family program. … It is my hope that for all the negative publicity that comes from actions by individuals with mental illness that we will one day tip the scales with positive publicity about individuals like you who recover and lead full, productive lives.

– Julie

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate and freelance writer. He is a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor and can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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