Caring for a son with schizophrenia means having to put up with prejudice, writes Georgina Wakefield
“What do they mean, mum?” my son’s voice trembles, “they don’t even know me. One lady says she is worried about her grandchildren visiting her house”.
I ask Christian what he is going on about and notice the weary tone in my voice; the voice of a mental health carer is all too familiar. He says the letters page in the local paper has his new neighbours saying they don’t want mentally afflicted persons living near them.
I find it difficult to find the right words to explain, there are no right words to describe his neighbours’ views. “They are bloody ignorant Christian if they think the stories they read in the papers are about everyone who suffers from schizophrenia.” I knew the letters would affect Christian and I dreaded the next few weeks. The papers are to blame; they use words like schizo and nutter.
It is as if my son has a layer of skin missing so what causes us a little discomfort causes him real pain. Last year I read a story about a man in the US who had experienced his first breakdown while training to be a doctor. When he finally managed to go back to work he wore a sign around his neck which read “be careful how you speak to me, I suffer from schizophrenia and words often hurt me”. Christian frequently tells me that words hurt him too; ironically most sufferers are kind and sensitive people
and are far more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else.
His mental health issues started when he was 16 and seven years later he relapsed and spent five weeks on an acute ward, followed by five years in rehab. We would make the journey to visit him three times a week, including bringing him home and taking him back. And thankfully we did as visitors are thin on the ground if you have a long-term mental illness. Cards, flowers, words of comfort are designed for those who are suffering from physical conditions. They are not enough when a person goes to hell and back on a daily and nightly basis, unable to work, and losing the ability to form meaningful relationships. This is just for starters as fun, friends and holidays become a thing of the past.
Along with this grief parents are forced to suffer the negative perceptions all too often portrayed by the media. We are forced to cope with people who believe that they have the divine right to become both judge and jury. The defendant’s crime? Nothing short of a tragic life event.
The night Christian finally moved into his own flat persons unknown smashed every security light around the building. A short time later a man was stabbed to death in a pub a stone’s throw away from my son’s flat. But this time no letters appeared in the local paper about people being scared about what was happening in their neighbourhood. The person who committed the crime wasn’t suffering from a mental illness so it was OK.
Georgina Wakefield is a carer for her son who has schizophrenia