Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The struggles behind the wall March 4, 2021

An edited snippet of the book cover for Behind the Wall, a powerful book about mental illness.

SOMETIMES IN LIFE, moments present that forever imprint upon one’s mind.

Like the Sunday morning I walked out of church after the pastor termed Vincent van Gogh “crazy” in his sermon. The artist wasn’t “crazy.” He suffered from mental illness. Delusions. Psychosis. Depression. The next morning, after I calmed, I phoned my pastor and we discussed his word choice and why I found that offensive.

On another occasion, while sampling craft beer in a small town southern Minnesota brewery, I noticed a customer with the name of a nearby brewery printed on the back of his jacket. Lost Sanity Brewing. As if that name wasn’t bad enough, the business logo—a straightjacket—proved even more insensitive.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

But then there was the day I spotted this message blazoned across the back of a shirt worn by a young woman attending a cultural event at the Northfield Public Library: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. When I approached her, she shared how she lives with depression and how her family has loved and supported her through her struggles.

Encounters like that in Northfield give me hope. Hope that we’re making progress in erasing the stigma of mental illness. Hope that we’re raising awareness. Hope that people will become more understanding and compassionate. Hope that carelessly tossed words like “crazy” and images of straightjackets will vanish.

I highly recommend this book to every one of you. It’s a must-read insider view of individuals and their families struggling with mental illness.

I admire that strong young woman in Northfield who, through the message on her shirt, spoke truth. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. Those struggles unfold in a particularly powerful book, Behind the Wall—The True Story of Mental Illness as Told by Parents. This book is a compilation of real-life experiences shared by parents of mentally ill adult children in their own words. Compiled by Mary Widdifield and Elin Widdifield, it’s an honest and often heart-wrenching look at the struggles these families face.

Behind the Wall is not an easy read. But it shouldn’t be. There’s nothing easy about depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or any mental illness/brain disorder. These stories are deserving of our time, focus and attention. When you read these stories, you will feel the pain, experience the challenges, grieve the losses, encounter the frustrations, hold the worry and, hopefully, come away with a deeper understanding of mental illnesses. You will see, perhaps for the first time, the struggles that are all too real for many individuals and their families.

And you will see, too, incredible strength, resilience, determination and hope.


IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE are struggling with your mental health, seek professional help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is also a great resource for information and support. Click here to learn more.


Thanks to my friend, Beth Ann Chiles, who gifted me with Behind the Wall. You can read her review of the book by clicking here on her “It’s Just Life” blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “The struggles behind the wall”

  1. Washe Koda Says:

    OK 😢 My shrink doctor at Veterans Medical Center told me there is nothing wrong with me whilst the rest of the country is really screwed up 🇺🇸

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    Blessings to you Audrey as you advocate for brain disease, as Mindy Greiling names it.

  3. Gut wrenching. So many people really struggle and for people to casually call them “crazy” without context of the person who is experiencing issues is insensitive! You have always tried to bring attention to these stressful struggles and I for one am glad that someone is listening, encouraging open discussion and calling people on the carpet for being narrow in their focus. That famous Dutch painter would have never have created the works that he did if not for his mental illness. Which was caused most likely by the chemicals he used to mix his paint colors then sucking on the brush tips to get the finest lines for his master pieces. Again, the talent is God given and we should all respect those talents in whatever form they express themselves.
    Sorry to hear about insensitive remarks from VA personal.

  4. Thank you for sharing Audrey. Such an important topic! I do feel like mental illness is not as “taboo” as it used to be. The bad stigma is gradually going away as we become more aware of what mental illness is. These are REAL people, who feel and love just like everyone else, and they deserve to be understood and loved back! It’s our kids, our brother or sister, our neighbor, and sometimes it’s us. I look forward to reading this book…always wanting to understand and learn.

    • I agree that progress is being made in reducing the stigma. But much remains to be accomplished and we really really really need more mental heatlhcare professionals.

      Thank you for your interest in learning more.

  5. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Important post, Audrey. I know several people who struggle with depression and anxiety; my sister-in-law’s brother is schizophrenic. There are people struggling everywhere. At some point, that could be you or me. Brains and the body’s chemistry are complicated beyond what we know.

  6. Mary Says:

    Hello Audrey. Thanks for the shout out for our book, Behind the Wall. We are gratified that the stories we collected have helped others. Let’s keep working together, united, to support individuals and their families impacted by mental illness and teach others that it’s an illness that can be treated.
    Peace and health!

    • You are most welcome, Mary. Your book is powerful in taking mental illness to a deeply personal level. I doubt many people fully realize how much the entire family is affected and forever changed and the ongoing struggles. You cover that well. I am committed to educating and informing. And, yes, there’s treatment. And hope. But we really really need more psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, at least in my area of Minnesota. Waits of up to six weeks are common. And that doesn’t work when an individual is in crisis with nowhere to go.

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