28 May 07
Rev Paul N. Papas II
One family’s story of struggle
The story I am about to tell you is real, the names and locations have been changed. It is a history of how mental illness has been treated throughout the years, where we were and how far we’ve come.
In a metropolitan area around 1935 a young mother; I’ll call Jane, was having a very difficult time after the birth of her third child. Her actions were scary to her husband; I’ll call Jack, Jack was afraid to leave Jane alone with their three children. Jane was exhausted after delivery with broken sleep patterns. This lack of enough rest kept her from regaining her strength. She felt isolated and overwhelmed with three young children to care for and no help. Her stress level increased as her ability to care for her children decreased. She lost motivation to take care of normal daily things. She lost interest in things she like to do. Jane did not have family support in this country, although she did have a command of the English language. Her symptoms got worse over time. Jane did not previously exhibit any signs of mental illness.
Both Jack and Jane immigrated to United States about thirty five years before and became citizens years ago. Jack spent long hours at work, therefore spent little time to help with their three young children. Jack did not understand the reasons for Jane’s feelings or actions. Jack did not take Jane to a Doctor for an examination. In their culture to expose these symptoms would have brought feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt about feeling depressed, especially at a time when they should have felt happy.
At that time many doctors did not understand postpartum depression. Today we know that the “baby blues” can happen in the days right after childbirth and normally go away within a few days to a week. Postpartum depression can happen anytime within the first year after childbirth. Symptoms such as sadness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness are often signs of postpartum depression The difference between the two is that postpartum depression often affects a woman’s well-being and keeps her from functioning well for a longer period of time. Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a doctor. Family support, counseling, support groups and medications are things that can help.
One day when their youngest child was about two years old and Jack was at work men in the white coats came to the house and removed Jane from the house, within view of their oldest child. Jane was admitted to a state mental hospital that was not close by where she remained until her death some thirty years later. The three children were bounced from foster home to foster home for years. Jack rarely visited Jane. Jack kept some connection with his three children and later reunited with them, but the relationship was often strained.
There was one time about three or fours years before her death while Jack was visiting one of their sons Jane was brought for a visit. Jane was furious at Jack which led to a loud family argument about the way Jack treated Jane.
Some of those wounds are still raw today.
One of Jack’s grandchildren developed a mental illness during his high school years. Jack’s daughter-in-law was determined not to let history be repeated. She sought information and help from every source she could find.
These were the beginning years of what is now known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness which began in 1979. She co-founded one of the first affiliates in the state and remained active until her death. Because of Jack’s daughter-in-law’s advocacy Jack’s grandson is thriving in an apartment he shares with a roommate. He works twenty hours a week and is totally embraced by the family.
No system is perfect, that is true, but the good news is advocacy works.
Rev Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries and current President of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Framingham. NAMI Greater Framingham has support groups for family and friends in Framingham and Uxbridge, and Peer Support Groups in Marlborough and Milford and a Family to Family 12 week Education Course in Framingham and various Education Meetings.The next major event is a 5 K Walk/Run and fund raising dinner for Domestic Violence programs in MA and AZ on September 8th www.narrowpathministries.org and http://home.earthlink.net/~nami01704