By: Ashley Loney
I have always struggled to see life from the shoes of someone who is suffering from a mental illness. After reading My son is schizophrenic. The ‘reforms’ that I worked for have worsened his life by Paul Gionfriddo, I learned detailed insight to the life his own son lives while challenged with Schizophrenia. This short read also shows its readers what little is being done by society to help those who are suffering from a mental illness.
The first thing that drew me to this story was that it was written by a father about his own son, as Gionfriddo unfolds the story the reader quickly feels sympathy for both Gionfriddo and son Tim. Gionfriddo starts off the story giving a brief bio of his son’s current appearance.
“If you were to encounter my son, Tim, a tall, gaunt man in ragged clothes, on a San Francisco street, you might step away from him. His clothes, his dark unshaven face and his wild curly hair stamp him as the stereotype of the chronically mentally ill street person”.
I really enjoyed the detail in the description Tim. It allows the reader to form an image of what he looks like, and to grow a connection to him throughout the story. Gionfriddo goes onto to explain Tim’s appearance in relevance to society
“People are afraid of what they see when they glance at Tim. Policymakers pass ordinances to keep people who look like him at arm’s length. But when you look just a little more closely, what you find is a young man with a sly smile, quick wit and an inquisitive mind”.
This automatically took me back to every time I passed someone on the street that seemed a little off to me. I would take an extra couple steps to keep my distance, unknowing of what they might do. As a young woman I still feel the need to keep a good distance, but to take into consideration what someone’s story is, why they wound up the way they are, before completely writing them off. Gionfriddo then gives his place in the story as a young legislator in Connecticut, being at the bottom of the totem pole Gionfriddo was assigned the most undesired committee, the “health subcommittee”.
“In my new legislative role, I jumped at the opportunity to move people out of “those places.” I initiated funding for community mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for adults, returned young people from institution-based “special school districts” to schools in their home towns and provided for care coordinators to help manage the transition of people back into the community”.
At the time Gionfriddo and the other legislators found that all their hard work was paying off and helping those around them. However, Gionfriddo quickly learned that they made a critical misjudgment. Public schools were not prepared and Community agencies did not have space to house those with mental illnesses. In the end many who are suffering from Mental illnesses end up in jails, not getting the resources they need to live a successful life in society. This opened my eyes to realize how much assistance those with mental illnesses need.
Everyone has their own story and Tim’s started in 1985 when he was adapted by Gionfriddo and his wife (whom he later divorces). Schools and counselors kept on insisting that Tim’s social problems and constant trouble making, reflected the fact that he was an African American boy that was adopted by two Caucasian parents. It wasn’t until 10 years later that Tim was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, he was 17-years-old. The way that Gionfriddo chooses to tell the story he insinuates that a late diagnosis is a common occurrence in the U.S. Gionfriddo also included many fats throughout the story supporting how important it is to make diagnosis early on.
“Mental illnesses cost as much as cancers to treat each year, and the National Institute for Mental Health notes that serious mental illnesses can reduce life expectancy by more than 25 years…. Every year, one in every five children and one in every four adults has a diagnosable mental illness”.
After reading this story I felt as if I knew Tim personally and wanted to help him. I feel the need for society to gain a better understanding of what makes symptoms occur when someone is mentally ill, in order to give a proper diagnosis. Which will affect that persons chance of living a successful life. Gionfriddo wrote this story step by step giving his readers insight to the struggle Tim has to face on a daily basis. Due to the detail and order of which the story unfolded it feels as if Tim found trouble around every corner. This makes it easy for the reader to build a connection and sympathy towards not just Tim but Gionfriddo as well, joining him in the efforts to make a difference. Where is Tim today? He is homeless living in San Francisco
“It took a nation to get Tim there. And it will take a national commitment to get him — and others like him — back.”