Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focus on mental illness: A Minnesota family’s story December 2, 2020

I READ THE BOOK in a single day. That should tell you something. Fix What You Can—Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker’s Fight for Her Son by Mindy Greiling is an incredibly powerful book. It is painfully honest, deeply personal and informative. A must read, whether you know little or a lot about people with serious mental illnesses.

Greiling writes about the flaws in the mental healthcare system—from lack of providers and treatments and options to poor communication to the struggles families face, too often alone.

You will cry with this mother as she shares the challenges faced by her son, Jim, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and also a substance abuser. You will feel her pain, her fear, her anger. This is her story. Jim’s story. Her family’s story. Maybe your, or a loved one’s, story.

GRIEF. ANGER. ADVOCACY.

Mindy writes of transitioning through the stages of grief. From anger to advocacy. Not because her son has died, but rather grieving the loss of what may have been if not for Jim’s disease. She takes her personal experiences and uses her position as a state representative to effect changes in Minnesota laws and ways in which people view mental illness. She became involved in the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She became not only Jim’s advocate, but an advocate for the broader base. All the while managing her own fears and feelings of being alone through all of this, of experiencing trauma.

IMAGINE.

Imagine if your son heard voices directing him to kill you. Imagine if your son suffered from paranoia. Imagine if your son had to get off the one most effective medication for his disease because side effects could kill him. Imagine…

This was/is reality for the Greiling family as Jim continues to navigate life and his disease. But it is also a story of hope and resilience and the strength of not only Mindy, but of her son. She recognizes that, even with schizoaffective disorder, Jim is capable of so much. She believes in him. Never gives up. You will see that repeated throughout the pages of this book written by a determined and caring mother faced with crisis after crisis.

There is no fairy tale ending to this story. Jim’s is a life-long disease with no cure.

PUTTING A FACE TO A DISEASE

I admire Mindy, who sought her son’s input in writing this book released in early October. I admire Jim’s strength in the public telling of his story. Such first-hand accounts make an impact, take a disease beyond statistics to a face. An individual. A family. This is a mother trying her best to secure help for her son, to advocate when needed, to make tough decisions when necessary. This is a family in need of understanding and support, all too often missing when it comes to mental illness. When Mindy’s husband, Roger, emails extended family and asks them to send get well cards to Jim in a hospital psych ward, my heart breaks. But this is too often reality. Families feel alone, without much-needed support from family and friends.

LEARN. LISTEN. SUPPORT.

I encourage you to read Fix What You Can—Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker’s Fight for Her Son published by the University of Minnesota Press. And then, when you’ve finished, reassess how you feel about individuals who are dealing with mental illness. Consider that they did not choose these brain diseases, just like people do not choose cancer.

There is much to be learned from the Greiling family’s story. We’ve come a long way in opening up about mental health. But so much remains to be done. We need more mental healthcare providers. (Mindy writes of a six-week wait for Jim to see a psychiatrist, more common here in Minnesota than uncommon.) We need more programs. More funding. More housing and treatment options. More training for law enforcement. More understanding and compassion. And support. We can pledge, as individuals, to educate ourselves about mental illness and then to take that knowledge and be that person who sends a card, listens, prepares a meal…for an individual/family in need of our ongoing care, compassion, understanding and support. A family like the Greilings.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

18 Responses to “Focus on mental illness: A Minnesota family’s story”

  1. Ruth Says:

    I like how you don’t shy away from this important topic of mental health. This book sounds powerful. Thank you Audrey.

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    I ordered this book from the library as soon as you told me about it. I’m on a waiting list…that’s good. People are reading it. I’ll let you know when I get the book.

  3. Virgil Says:

    Thanks Audrey for your ongoing efforts to educate others and for your support for those and their families who live with the mental health challenges.

  4. Powerful post and a powerful/impactful read. I have family as well as friends that have or are dealing with mental illness as well as special needs. It was not talked about much growing up and if it was it was done behind closed doors with immediate family and friends. Sometimes mental illness leads to abuse within the family unit and that was not talked about either. It is especially hard when children are involved and at times that mental illness is passed on and/or the abuse is carried on through the generations. Mental illness is slowly being addressed and discussed more and I agree in the need for more resources. I know a few nurses that want to treat the whole person and are looking into specializing in mental health/PTSD. For instance, heart disease patients have cognition-related illnesses and now seeing it with covid patients too. Just in general when people are diagnosed with an illness can result in mental illnesses (i.e. cancer, diabetes, obesity, anorexia, etc.). There truly is a mind/body connection to a whole being and who they are, how they tick, their health and wellness, etc. Thank you for sharing! Take Care 🙂

  5. It is on my list of books to read. Mental illness is so misunderstood… awareness breeds compassion and knowledge to understanding this awful disease. Thanks for this post and for sharing about this book. I will be reading it for sure.

  6. This really sounds like an important book for EVERYONE to read. I am going to see if our library has a copy to lend out. It looks like a really great book to read to learn more. Thank you.

    • I expect it may be a challenge for you to find this book. The Northfield Public Library special-ordered this book for me as it wasn’t available anywhere in our regional library system. But I wasn’t surprised given its new release. I have a friend from Northfield now on a waiting list for the book. That is encouraging.

  7. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Thank you for sharing this book with us, Audrey. I think most of us know someone who struggles with mental health issues, both large and not so large but that impact every part of their lives nevertheless. I agree that it’s important for everyone to understand what a mental health diagnosis means and how we can be supportive of those who must manage such diagnoses. We are all in need of support and love no matter what we struggle with. Shame or secrecy does not help; education and compassion do.

  8. Wow, I will have to add that to my book list.

  9. Definitely sounds like a book to read. Thanks for this review.


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