Seeing the Illness

The first principle of support for NAMI family support groups is “We will see the individual first, not the illness.”

As family members it is easy to see the illness first because so much of our lives is based on the illness. Each day is filled with behaviors induced by the illness, medication schedules, doctor or counseling visits, and so on. We do need to reminded to see the person in our child first.

Outside our families though, sometimes we want people to “see” the illness. Wewant others to see it is the illness that causes the unusual, and sometimes frightening, behavior. Far too often, the illness becomes the person.

Recently, we witnessed once again the tragedy of a young person suffering with a mental illness take the lives of others and himself. The unseen tragedy of this horrific event in Omaha was this illness, that prompted the shootings, became the person. This young man, and ultimately his parents, were demonized as the cause of the out-of-control behavior.If the illness were seen, the person behind those terrible acts would be found.

When I look at the Omaha shooter, I see a young man fighting demons in his head. Acting on a disease that is incomprehensible to me and to our society. I also see parents, already laden with guilt, being further “convicted” of being bad as well.

To fight the stigma we need to let others see the illness separately from the individual. It is easier for us to see the individual we know and love. It is too easy for those outside our family to see the illness as the individual.

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