Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Thanksgiving Blog in January?
   "Your son has schizophrenia." -- four words that have changed my life forever.  I heard those words in a small psychiatrists office about six years ago.  All the things that could happen to your children -- drug addiction, car accidents, trouble with the law, etc. -- I certainly never ever considered the possibility of mental illness.
   And I certainly never thought I would be including a blog about mental illness on my photography website. I have decided to do this because it appears to be a good way to increase the awareness of mental illness and hopefully educate more people about mental illness.  
     So here goes todays  blog…

A photographers life gets a little hectic during the holidays, and blogging fell way down on my priority list.  Still, I wanted to do a Thanksgiving blog.  

   During the entire month of Thanksgiving, Facebook was filled with people posting what they were thankful for… mostly their family, their friends, their home, etc.  I would ask myself what am I really thankful for.  And what did I come up with?  Modern day anti-psychotic drugs. I shudder to think of where my son would be without them.  Thirty  years ago Bryce  Psychiatric Hospital housed over 5,000 patients.  Today the number has declined to less than  300.  This is due, in a large part, to "miracle drugs" that enable people with brain disorders to live a somewhat normal life.  I have seen my son without medication. It is not pleasant. He is not violent or dangerous, just very confused, disoriented, delusional, and anxious without medication.
   Before starting this blog I did a little research on the early years of Bryce Hospital.  It was built in the 1800's partly due to the driving force of Dorthea Lange.  I found that interesting because I can remember as a child reading a biography of Dorthea Lange and looking at pictures of the mentally ill housed in devastating conditions.      
    When Bryce was built it's management and commitment to "scientific treatments" was recognized around the country as in a class of its own. Then came the decline in the twentieth century, until the hospital was likened to that of a concentration camp. By 1970, Alabama ranked last in the nation in mental health funding.   In October of 1970 a juvenile delinquent was housed there despite that fact he had never been diagnosed with a mental illness.  This led to a class action lawsuit instigated by a former employee that had witnessed the inhumane treatment of the patients.  The lawsuit lasted 33 years and cost 15 million dollars. 
   But enough about the history of Bryce, except to note that I grew up in an era of "making jokes" about Bryce hospital.  I realize now how cruel that was.  With mental illness affecting one in four family, you never know who you are offending when making tasteless jokes about the mentally ill.

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