Stigma is a problematic and infectious set of knowledge that is passed on from person to person, like an infectious disease.  Often when  you hear about stigma it is not completely described.  Often your professors tell you, stigma is a harmful word that has negative meaning to it, or something along those lines.  Your professors don't tell you exactly what stigma is, so you can infer what it means to you.  The reason for this is because stigma's exact meaning  is constructed differently for different people.  Many people have had different experiences or inexperiences with mental illness, but the generally negative construct is often the problem that your professor is referencing.
     Schizophrenia is frequently stigmatized .  Often people with schizophrenia are called weird, eccentric, or odd.  Traditional knowledge says folks with schizophrenia will often have poor outcomes, that there is little hope for this population.  This idea exits because of previously lacking knowledge, poor treatment outcome conditioning, and poor prior expectations that have plagued this disease.
     Recently, the federal government has created an initiative to help reduce the burden of mental illness by fostering societal openness to the problems associated with mental illness.  This initiative's modality for reaching communities is through whatever venue or discussion avenue that allows people, especially younger people to come together to talk about mental illness.
     The reason for this initiative is because we know mental illnesses are treatable.  We know people with schizophrenia, and almost almost any other disorder, have the ability to have a stable and satisfying life.  One interesting and personal way to learn about mental illness is to read autobiographies or biographies about mental illness.  One model for the struggles and success of mental illness, particularly Schizophrenia is Mark Vonnegut, MD, who sat on the Harvard Medical School Admissions board and was also hospitalized at least four times.  He wrote a detailed book about his joys and struggles.  It is not only a professionally written book but the author also sheds a respectfully funny light on his struggles.  He discusses time in a hospital and genetic contributions that have provided his entire family with mental health struggles.  He speaks of his trip to Honduras to what he had hoped would be providing free care.  He also mentions his struggles with xanax saying, "don't trust something that can be spelled the same backward as it can forward and has two x's in it."  His book is titled Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So and it is a great read.
     We are now in a place where we have learned exponentially more about schizophrenia and have developed better working knowledge and treatments for mental illness.  There are far fewer societal restraints and limitations that threaten goals and ways of living.  The time is now to continue fighting mental illness and improving lives.

A good way to understand mental illness and attempt to break down the stigmatizing ideas is to view life from the perspective of others.  If you would like to pick out a good book to help understand the real struggles and triumphs associated with mental illness, here is a list of books, many published within the last five years...

Major Depressive Disorder, Suicidality, Bipolar Disorder

The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar (2011) by Terri Cheney.  New York: Atria.  This book can be considered a prequel to the author’s popular book, Manic: A Memoir, in that it gives accounts of early signs of bipolar disorder, including the author’s first suicide attempt at the age of 7 and her recurrent mood swings as a child and adolescent.

Mockingbird Years: A Life In and Out of Therapy (2000) by Emily Fox Gordon.  New York: Basic Books.  By the time she was 17 years old, the author had already been treated by five different therapists and at the age of 18, she tried to kill herself.

Bloodletting: A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, and Survival (2006) by Victoria Leatham.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.  This memoir provides a first-person account of self-harm during adolescence, along with symptoms of an eating disorder, substance abuse, and bipolar disorder.

Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl (2011) by Stacy Pershall.  New York: Norton.  Having been suicidal in high school and experiencing mood swings, hallucinations, and eating disorders in adolescence and young adulthood, the author is eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Go Ask Ogre: Letters From a Deathrock Cutter (2005) by Jolene Siana.  Los Angeles: Process Books.  Using the format of a diary, this author describes her cutting behavior during adolescence.

The Buddha and the Borderline: A Memoir (2010) by Kiera VanGelder.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publishers.  The author was plagued by mood swings, suicidal wishes, and substance abuse during adolescence, and was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder as an adult.

Anxiety Disorders

Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (2007) by Jeff Bell.  Center City, MN:  Hazeldon.  This well-written memoir focuses on the development of OCD symptoms, which began in childhood with an anxious boy who stayed up late into the night obsessing about things that were real and not-so-real.

Saving Sammy: A Mother’s Fight To Cure Her Son’s OCD (2009) by Beth Alison Maloney.  New York: Three Rivers Press.  Although he had previously been well-functioning, 12-year old Sammy suddenly began displaying unusual behavior associated with OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome.

Wish I Could Be There: Notes From A Phobic Life (2007) by Allen Shawn.  New York: Penguin Books.  Having grown up with a famous father (William Shawn, long-time editor of the New Yorker magazine) who also had significant battles with anxiety disorders, this author describes his childhood and adulthood in relation to his struggles with panic disorder in the context of agoraphobia.

Devil in the Details: Scenes From an Obsessive Girlhood (2004) by Jennifer Traig.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.  By the age of 12, the author experienced religiously-oriented obsessive-compulsive disorder, which led to extreme hand-washing, praying, and purifying of all of her possessions.

Passing For Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion (1999) by Amy S. Wilensky.  New York: Random House.  During childhood, the author developed tics, twitches, and unique behavior (such as hoarding rotting food and stepping on each stair 6 times) and she was finally diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD in college.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention–A Memoir (2010) by Katherine Ellison.  New York: Hyperion.  Both the author and her 12 year old son (nicknamed “Buzz”) were diagnosed with ADHD at the same time and she details their joint efforts to battle the disorder.

The Little Monster: Growing Up With ADHD (2004) by Robert Jergen.  Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.  This first-person account describes a troubled childhood, with multiple suicide attempts and alcohol abuse in late adolescence, with an ultimate diagnosis of ADHD during young adulthood.

ADHD and Me: What I Learned From Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table (2007) by Blake E. S. Taylor.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.  Written during his junior and senior year of high school, this author shares an insider’s view of experiencing ADHD.

Conduct Disorder

Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America (1994) by Nathan McCall.  New York: Random House.  By the age of 14, the author had participated in a gang rape, by 15 he routinely carried a gun and by 20 he was sentences to spend three years in prison for armed robbery.

Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member (1993) by Sanyika Shakur.  New York: Atlantic Monthly.  In this powerful memoir, the author describes behavior related to juvenile delinquency and conduct disorder in addition to an array of risk factors (such as living in poverty, racism, exposure to violence from an early age, and paternal absence).

Substance Use Disorders

Dear Diary (2007) by Lesley Arfin.  Brooklyn, NY: Power House Books.  With excerpts from the author’s diary from ages 12 and 25, and her updated comments as a young adult, this book reflects on adolescent angst, cutting behavior, and eventual heroin addiction.

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir (2006) by Cupcake Brown.  New York: Three Rivers Press.  The author experiences a tremendous number of risk factors in childhood (including the death of her mother, physical abuse, sexual assault, and homelessness), which she discusses in the context of early substance abuse and dependence.

Girl Bomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir (2006) by Janice Erlbaum.  New York: Villard.  In an attempt to escape a troubled home life, the author ran away from home and lived on the streets, which lead to more at-risk behavior and substance abuse, among other things.

Drinking: A Love Story (1996) by Caroline Knapp.  New York: Bantam Doubleday.  The author began abusing alcohol at the age of 14 and eventually developed alcohol dependence during adolescence.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction (2008) by David Sheff.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  This memoir is written by a father who explores his son, Nic’s, substance abuse and dependence.

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (2008) by Nic Sheff.  New York: Atheneum.  Vivid insider’s view of substance abuse, dependence, and treatment.

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2005) by Koren Zailckas.  New York: Penguin Books.  She began drinking when she was 14 years old and continued into young adulthood, but stopped when she almost caused the accidental death of a child.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Matthew’s Enigma: A Father’s Portrait of His Autistic Son (2009) by Matei Calinescu. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.  By using his actual diary entries and recollections of his son’s life, this author describes the challenges of raising and loving a boy with autism and epilepsy.

Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir of Growing Up With an Autistic Sibling (2009) by Karl Taro Greenfeld.  New York: Harper Collins.  Written by Josh Greenfeld’s oldest son, this memoir describes what it was like growing up with a brother who experienced severe autism.

See Sam Run: A Mother’s Story of Autism (2008) by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe.  Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press.  From very early on, the author’s son was uncommunicative and unmanageable and he ultimately was diagnosed with autistic disorder.
Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s (2007) by John Elder Robison.  New York: Three Rivers Press.  The author provides a detailed insider’s view of growing up with Asperger’s Disorder.

Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic (1992) by Donna Williams.  New York: Avon Books.  Although she was not diagnosed with autism until she was 25 years old, this book is the first in a series of memoirs by the author who describes what it is like to live on the autism spectrum.

Schizophrenia and Psychosis

My Lobotomy: A Memoir (2007) by Howard Dully.  New York: Three Rivers Press.  This author describes a history of family dysfunction and behavior problems, which resulted in him being given a lobotomy when he was 12 years old.

Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father’s Story of Love and Madness (2008) by Michael Greenberg.  New York: Random House.  Superbly written memoir by a father whose adolescent daughter is slowly losing her sense of reality.

Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival: A Memoir (1997) by Jay Neugeboren.  New York: Henry Holt and Company.  The author’s brother had a psychotic break at the age of 19 and the author describes his and his brother’s lives both before and after the psychotic break, which was thought to be related to either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett (1994).  New York: Warner Books.  Along with her therapists and family members, this writer explains her first psychotic break in late adolescence and her subsequent spiral into schizophrenia, with multiple suicide attempts, hospitalizations, half-way houses, relapses, and ultimate stabilization.

Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir (2010) by Mark Vonnegut.  New York: Delacorte Press.  Although the author (who is the son of author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.) did not experience full-blown schizophrenia until he was a young adult, this memoir details his early years in relation to his later dysfunction and eventual stabilization and career as a pediatrician.

Eating Disorders

Thin: A Memoir of Anorexia and Recovery (2006) by Grace Bowman.  New York: Penguin Books. The author first dieted as an adolescent and kept going until she was gravely ill and weighing only 84 pounds.

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain (2010) by Portia DeRossi.  New York: Atria Books.  Now married to comedian Ellen DeGeneres, this author/actress describes her experiences at age 12 when she had extremely restricted eating which ultimately led to anorexia and bulimia.

Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self (2000) by Lori Gottlieb.  New York: Simon and Schuster.  With material from her real childhood diaries, the author notes that she began to diet at the age of 11 and wanted to be “the thinnest eleven-year-old on the entire planet.”

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia (1998) by Marya Hornbacher.  New York: Harper Collins.  The author experienced bulimia by the age of 9 and anorexia by the age of 15, and she provides a comprehensive and intimate account of battling eating disorders in adolescence and early adulthood.

Biting Anorexia: A Firsthand Account of an Internal War (2009) by Lucy Howard-Taylor.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. This writer describes her experiences of anorexia and depression and includes many entries from her adolescent diary.

Purge: Rehab Diaries (2009) by Nicole Johns.  Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.  With copies of psychiatric reports, inpatient records, and food charts, this memoir provides a first-person account of battling an Eating Disorder–Not otherwise specified (NOS).

Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders (2007) by Aimee Liu.  New York: Warner Books.  In this follow-up to her memoir, Solitaire, the author explains how she “declared war on appetite” (p. xii) at 13 years old and proceeded to go from 130 pounds to 98 pounds by the age of 14.

Risk Factors: Parental Psychopathology, Poverty, Family Dysfunction, Abuse (Physical, Sexual, Emotional)

Father’s Days: A True Story of Incest (1979) by Katherine Brady.  New York: Dell Publishing.  In vivid detail, the author describes her childhood, which included ten years of sexual abuse by her father.

My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change (2010) by Sam Bracken. New York: Crown Archetype.  Dealing with poverty and abuse, the author is abandoned and homeless by the age of 15 and eventually can fit all of his belongings into an orange duffel bag.

All Over But the Shouting (1997) by Rick Bragg.  New York: Pantheon Books.  Illustrations of abuse, parental alcoholism, and rural poverty are detailed along with other stressors and risk factors in this popular memoir.

Hope’s Boy: A Memoir (2008) by Andrew Bridge.  New York: Hyperion.  This first-person account describes how the author overcame his mother’s mental illness and survived the foster care system and how he eventually attended Harvard Law School and earned a Fullbright Scholarship.

The Boy With the Thorn in His Side (2000) by Keith Fleming.  New York: Harper Collins.  As an adolescent, the author was sent to a mental hospital and he experienced many family challenges, including maternal depression, parental divorce, a custody battle, alleged physical abuse, and he ultimately found strength and resilience while being raised by his famous uncle, author Edmund White.

The Kiss (1997) by Kathryn Harrison.  New York: Avon Books.  In this memoir, the author describes her father’s absence during her childhood and her eventual sexual involvement with him in early adulthood.

The Years of Silence Are Past: My Father’s Life With Bipolar Disorder (2002) by Stephen Hinshaw.  New York: Cambridge University Press.  Written by a professor of clinical psychology, this memoir illustrates the challenges of growing up with a father who battled bipolar disorder.

Saving Millie: A Daughter’s Story of Surviving Her Mother’s Schizophrenia (2006) by Tina Kotulski.  Madelia, MN: Extraordinary Voices Press.  The author provides a vivid account of many risk factors, including her mother’s schizophrenia, abuse, and trauma within the family, which were related to her first suicide attempt as an adolescent.

The Outsider: A Journey Into My Father’s Struggle With Madness (2000) by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer.  New York: Broadway Books.  When the author was 9 years old, his father experienced a psychotic break which ultimately led to the father’s disengagement from the family.

Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found (2000) by Jennifer Lauck.  New York: Pocketbooks.  The author describes her challenging but comfortable childhood that fell apart after a series of tragedies. 

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter (1997) by Adeline Yen Mah.  New York: Broadway Books.  First-hand account of experiencing verbal and physical abuse, with a focus on protective factors and resilience.

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine (2008) by Somaly Mam.  New York: Spiegel and Grau.  Powerful memoir about surviving sexual slavery in Cambodia and trying to prevent the same tragedy from befalling other little girls.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother (1996) by James McBride.  New York: Riverhead Books.  This memoir illustrates the risk factors of racism and poverty, and also highlights protective factors such as role models outside of the family, engagement in education, and strong family support.

Stolen Innocence: Triumphing Over a Childhood Broken By Abuse–A Memoir (2004) by Erin Merryn.  Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.  This book provides a detailed first-person account of repeated sexual abuse by a cousin and describes the complicated family dynamics surrounding the abuse.

The Family Crucible: One Family’s Therapy–An Experience That Illuminates All Our Lives (1978) by Augustus Y. Napier and Carl A. Whitaker. New York: Bantam Books. First person accounts of co-therapists conducting family therapy with a complicated and interesting family–a classic in family therapy readings.

Mixed: My Life in Black and White (2006) by Angela Nissel.  New York: Villard.  This amusing and engaging memoir describes risk factors such as racism and poverty, and focuses on the many strengths in the author’s life.

A Child Called “It”: An Abused Child’s Journey From Victim to Victor (1993) by David Pelzer.  Omaha, NE:  Omaha Press Publishing Company.  As the first in a series of memoirs by the author, this book provides a detailed account of severe child physical abuse.

Reading My Father: A Memoir (2011) by Alexandra Styron.  New York: Scribner.  Written by William Styron’s youngest daughter, this memoir illustrates what it was like to grow up with a talented but troubled father who battled depression and alcoholism (and who ultimately described his experiences in Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness).

The Glass Castle: A Memoir (2005) by Jeannette Walls.  New York: Scribner.  Raised with multiple risk factors, such as paternal alcoholism, family instability, and poverty, this author describes the strengths within herself and her siblings that lead to their successful adult lives.

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