I remember the day my mother had to leave my brother in the then Woodbridge hospital.
I remember her coming home, sobbing and saying something to the effect of “I’ve gone and done it. I’ve done it.. I’ve done it…”
She wasn’t saying that to me, but I was nearby, listening.
She would have been in her 40s. My brother in his early 20s, I believe. I don’t know how long this was after my brother started showing symptoms of schizophrenia and when they started seeing psychiatrists which was when he was in his teens.
But back in the 80s / 90s, to end up in Woodbridge was viewed as extremely shameful.
It was a place for mad people, the weirdos you see on the streets talking to themselves, the people often perceived as being dangerous.
I’m sure many families would have seen this as the greatest source of embarrassment. And you know how our society can be about “showing face”.
All I know is that obviously it must have felt terrible for my mom to have left her son there. To stay there overnight. Especially when she has always been so protective of him.
But she did it. I guess when she had to do it, she did it.
She had to find the strength back then at a time when the understanding of the illness was weak, when there was so much stigma.
Today, there is still stigma associated with seeing a psychiatrist or visiting the renamed Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
The name was changed to IMH in 1993 to reflect added commitment to research and training. I think it would play a part in changing the perception associated around the name Woodbridge which as I mentioned earlier, brought images of mad and dangerous people running around.
While the stigma around mental illness persists, it is definitely less now than back in the 80s. Especially when it comes to helping the youth.
Many early intervention programmes abound, and there is a lot more awareness about the need for early support.
And yet, I have a very real example of a young lady who appears to have similar symptoms of schizophrenia (it might not be schizophrenia, I cannot be the one to diagnose that, but the symptoms are similar to those associated with the illness) but who has yet to seek medical help.
Her mother refuses to see that she needs medical help. It is as though they are stuck in the 80s where all sorts of reasons are being given for the daughter’s erratic behaviour.
Religious and spiritual thoughts are being invoked. Societal pressures such as work stress are being put forth as logical reasons.
I am not a parent. But I know that it is the hardest thing to see your child ill. More so, mentally ill. To wonder what went wrong, what you might have done and so on. To wonder if he or she is ever going to be ok. To wonder what kind of life they might lead.
And most of all, to admit that your child needs psychiatric help and to do it. But you have a chance to help. To benefit from the fact that it’s at a time when there is more focus on mental health and efforts by the community to reduce the negativity associated with it.
To intervene before it’s too late.
To not end up like my poor brother who is 100% dependent on my mother. Who does not live much of a life at all. Whom you wonder what would happen to if his sole caregiver passes on.
If you can help it, you do not want to end up in a situation like this. It has been shown that with early intervention, proper treatment and support, many who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia have been able to go on to lead independent and meaningful lives.
So please, put aside your own fears and do what you can when you can to do something about it, before it’s too late.
IMH: To make an appointment to see a doctor, please call 6389 2200.
For counselling and support groups, please check out the Resources page.