Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kaleidoscope of the heart: Coming forward and talking about illness


An article published today by The Mainichi Daily News [Japan]:
By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist [pictured]

I invited two members of the BALBAL Club -- an organization that is engaged in activities in which those who have suffered from mental illnesses talk about their experiences -- to deliver speeches during my lecture at a university in the Kansai district. Male member Naohito Inamura and female Daria Sugano, talked about their experiences of schizophrenia.

Inamura experienced auditory hallucinations and delusion when he was a high school student. He said he was initially confused and did not understand what had happened to him.

After being hospitalized several times, Inamura took part in a workshop for those who have suffered from mental problems. He then made friends with many former patients and now his condition remains stable. Inamura has now recovered to the extent that he visits hospitals for those with mental illnesses and tells other patients about his experiences to encourage them.

"Hospitals that provide detailed care to patients are good, but you can relax at institutions that leave you alone," he jokingly says.

Sugano, who appears to be serious and intellectual, suffered from schizophrenia when she was in her teens. She and her family were initially unable to accept the fact that she suffered from schizophrenia, and were reluctant to receive social welfare services. In a desperate bid to be independent and self-reliant, Sugano attended a post-graduate school while working part-time, and was involved in stressful work in the social welfare sector. She suffered a relapse of her illness several times after being overworked. Now she has fully accepted the fact that she is a patient with schizophrenia, and can live at her own pace.

Sugano told students in my class that when she was 17, she was told by her doctor that she would need to regularly take medicine for schizophrenia for the rest of her life. On her way home from the clinic, she was concerned for her life, thinking that she was different from the people around her.

The students appeared impressed with her heartbreaking speech. I think students occasionally feel sad when they think all people except themselves are happy, but the degree of their despair is completely different from that Inamura and Sugano experienced.

Nevertheless, Inamura and Sugano found ways to deal with their disease by adopting lifestyles that suited their conditions, by going to places where they can truly be themselves and making friends after struggling for 10 to 15 years.

Their messages that, "You can certainly recover from your illnesses" and "If you find mentally ill people around you, please understand them," have a ring of truth because they experienced despair.

I wonder how the guest speakers' words sounded to the students of today, who tend to be sensitive and easily abandon their own goals. The two guest speakers wanted to advise the students not to give up hope even if they are in despair and to be patient, believing that anything takes time to solve. Their experiences give a lesson to everybody.

It is not easy for anybody to talk about their illnesses. But some people willing to do that help a growing number of people understand the illnesses and give courage to more and more people. Activities like those of BALBAL Club are now widespread throughout the country. If you have an opportunity, I would like you to listen to what its members have to say.

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