By: Lauretta Farmer
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The primary efforts of Mental Health Awareness Month are to reduce the negative stigma surrounding mental illness and to advocate for equal healthcare options for all people with mental health conditions. Mental health is an important focus area of our work at The Atlanta Women’s Foundation because it is one of the challenges that the women and girls we serve face. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we bring to you the first person experience of a mother, Lauretta Farmer, whose son Robert is affected by the mental health condition schizoaffective disorder. We hope by reading Lauretta and Robert’s story, we can begin to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and realize it is a medical condition like diabetes or cancer.
My son, Robert, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when he was 19. One in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. This doesn’t include the people who are impacted by watching their loved one suffer, oftentimes in silence.
Despite the stigma surrounding mental health treatment, for the next 10 years, Robert did fine. But, once he turned 29, Robert’s schizoaffective disorder worsened. He couldn’t sleep. He stayed up all night. He became anti-social.
Robert was not the son I knew. We brought him home to provide support, and that began a nightmarish few months that saw Robert bounce in and out of mental health services across metro Atlanta.
Wherever he went, doctors prescribed the same medications and released him to our care. The meds didn’t do anything. Within days, he’d be taken back to mental health services. Robert hated it. We all did. One day, he hurt his foot trying to escape one of these clinics. Paramedics took him to Grady.
Grady did something no one else had: They focused on his individual condition. Rather than prescribe the same drugs, they looked at his history, contacted his childhood psychiatrist and found a different medicine. To make sure it was working properly, they kept him for seven days. Then, they asked him to stay a little longer. I thought he would say no because he hated the mental health centers he’d been in. Instead, he said yes.
He told us that Grady was different. People there understood Robert needed medicine to cope in the world. They surrounded him with support.
Grady gave me back my son. And, it was only the beginning.
For a month after that initial treatment, Grady counselors and nurses visited the house several times a week to make sure Robert was doing well. They encouraged him to stick to the medication schedule. Within weeks, they began encouraging him to go to Grady for check-ins, and to get involved in other healthy activities.
Today, Robert uses public transportation to get to his appointments. We don’t need to remind him or nag him. He just does it.
As a parent, you want this freedom for your child. You want him to feel confident and capable. When a diagnosis like schizoaffective disorder threatens to impact how others see your baby, finding a place like Grady is truly a blessing. Compassionate caregivers and medical professionals gave me back my son and they’ve helped him find the life I always hoped he’d be able to enjoy.
Even today, Grady counselors continue to provide support for Robert. They’re still coming by the house every week. And they routinely call to check in with him. I had no idea Grady did this. I don’t know what we would have done without Grady.
We are grateful to Lauretta for sharing her experience with us and recognize her courage in doing so. At AWF, we’ve made mental health a priority because women impacted by poverty are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness. Without access to the services needed, these women are unable to accomplish the goals they are trying to achieve to become economically self-sufficient. Our Promoting Women’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Project provides critical support to nonprofits in their efforts to enhance or expand mental health services to women living at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines. To learn more about this project, click here.