I can name at least a dozen people with schizophrenia that are doing remarkable things. Three of the people I am thinking about have started non-profits to raise awareness or funds for the treatment of the illness. One woman started a business; one woman is an actor; one man is an incredible artist, screenwriter, and father. Of course, many people with schizophrenia write about their experiences as is evidenced, by the number of essays and memoirs on the topic (including one I wrote that I wish would disappear because I could write something so much better now).
Maybe, none of the things I wrote surprise you about people with schizophrenia. Perhaps, you have always known that people with the illness could live productive, creative, meaningful lives. What you might not be aware of is the network that exists between some people who have the disease. I belong to a group on Facebook started by one of the founders of the non-profit, Stigma Fighters, and everyone in the group has schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
It might surprise you to know that occasionally one of the group members will experience suicidal ideation and other group members will call them on the phone, talk to them, make sure they are safe, schedule check-ins, and possibly call someone in their area to do a welfare check, or if all else fails, call the police.
Recently, I was talking to my psychiatrist about talking to other people with schizophrenia in the middle of the night because they were hearing voices, or considering harming themselves. My psychiatrist was as surprised by this as I am. And I am surprised that we, those of us with the illness, provide this level of critical care to one another because it seems alarming to me that people that are considered by so many people to be incompetent in one way or another are reaching out, stepping up, and possibly saving lives.
Why do we do this? We do it because there is a big hole in our mental health care system. Seriously, think about the fact that those people who belong to one of the most stigmatized and vulnerable groups in society, step up and care for each other because often there is no one else to do it. We don’t have enough hospital beds; we have areas in the country that don’t have a single psychiatrist (psychiatric deserts), and the police are not adequately trained to handle mental health crises even though they are frequently the first responders.
I wanted to write about this reality so that people would be aware when they think of the illness of schizophrenia that many of us who have the diagnosis care for those who might otherwise slip through the cracks. It’s a broken system, and we are trying to patch it together and be a safety net one crisis at a time.