I have had the pleasure to discover and study some of Dr. Richard Warner’s books (The Environment of Schizophrenia, Social Inclusion of People with Mental Illness and Recovery from Schizophrenia) and they have absolutely changed my outlook on mental illness. My 20-year old son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia two years ago. The following are some of the things I have learned from Dr. Warner’s books:
1. The books have changed my mindset from the start, by stating that 25% of people with schizophrenia actually recover. Many of us know what a cloud of despair can be cast on parents and relatives of schizophrenics. When my son was first diagnosed, I was given sympathetic looks and a list of support groups. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was told, “Good luck!” Support groups were often equally discouraging. I am sure they can be useful in some situations, but the ones I attended were full of sad people with very few answers, who desperately wanted a way out. The main question was, “How can I – as a parent – survive this?” Many were telling me to put my son in an institution or send him out on his own, but I just couldn’t do it.
Finally, my son had to be hospitalized for a month. Even there, I received no word of hope. The person who was given temporary guardianship of him at that time thought she was being reassuring when she told me that he will most likely relapse and the second time around we will have a better chance to obtain permanent guardianship. And then I read these books. There is a chance my son might recover! Finally, a ray of hope.
2. The second thing that helped me in thee books is the warm and sound approach to recovery. Having lived in many third world countries, I can see how schizophrenics can receive greater social acceptance and more opportunities for work there. Even in Italy (where I was born), medical institutions are far from the cold, sterile approach I found in this country. Here my son has been arrested three times, handcuffed twice, pepper-sprayed once. Most doctors and therapists I have seen have been distant, measuring their words as if they were following a text book. This ordeal has actually drawn me closer to my sister (who lives in Italy) because I have called her at times of crisis, finding comfort and support in the natural motherly wisdom we have both known as children and have tried to apply in our families. These books have helped me to recognize the importance of a warm family environment, which is mentioned but rarely stressed in most publications (where the emphasis seems to fall on medications).
3. I have also appreciated Dr. Warner’s insights on cigarettes and marijuana usage. My son uses both. He started smoking cigarettes at the hospital, where they gave them out like candy. About the marijuana, all the professionals I have seen have warned me that it will have terrible effects or at least will cancel out the medications he is taking. My son told me it’s the only thing that helps him. He says it simplifies his thoughts and, when he uses it, “the voices are not angry anymore.” You may wonder why he still hears voices while he takes medications. I wonder too, and I told the psychiatrist who has made no effort to change her prescription. I suppose she knows what she is doing. My son doesn’t want to change doctors and I am just happy he accepts the medications because initially he didn’t. At any rate, Dr. Warner’s books have relieved my own paranoia about my son’s marijuana usage. Now that I know the sky is not going to fall, I can concentrate on what Dr. Warner advises to do in these cases – in his words, “invest more in those programs that help a person find a place in the world, that help people make friends and fulfill useful social roles.” I have been trying to prevent his boredom, include him in engaging activities (he does pole-vaulting at a local college), encourage situations where he can meet friends, and enroll him in work-training programs sponsored by the Department of Rehab.
There is much more, and I might have to write again at a later time. For now, I am deeply grateful for Dr. Warner’s efforts to bring concrete hope and solutions to patients and their parents.