In my last blog posted 29/30 November 2008 at
I indicated that there were three types or sources of stigma that, although touched upon in previous SharePosts, I wanted to consider individually and in more detail. These are family, provider and consumer stigma. This blog will address family stigma.
The response of core family members [mother, father, child, siblings, or live-in grandparent] to the discovery that someone within this family circle has a serious mental illness can vary significantly. The response varies according to age, experience with mental illness, ethnicity, economic status, and so on.
The response of more distant family members, such as uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. can be quite different. Below in an abridged excerpt from my memoir that portrays the reaction of an uncle [my mother's older brother] when I was first hospitalized.
[At the time, I thought I had a special mission from God that would save the universe from destruction. I also believed I was being harassed constantly by three of Satan's demons, whom I had named: One, Two, and Three. I believed the demons were trying to induce me to embrace Satan and accept a "wonderful destiny" he had prepared for me. The demons' comments are shown in bold italics with quotes. When responding to these demons, my comments are shown in italics with quotes. My thinking is shown in italics without quotes.]
* * *
Uncle Marvin's sudden appearance startled me. When I jerked in surprise, the carton of milk I was holding slipped through my fingers and landed upside down on my breakfast tray, spilling its contents.
"Look at you!" Uncle Marvin said. "You're a mess. You hair is a rat's nest and you're not even dressed yet."
I said nothing.
"You had better straighten-up, young man," Marvin warned. "You've got your parents spending a fortune on this hospital, not to mention that crackpot doctor. You're acting like a spoiled brat and you're an embarrassment to the whole family."
"Where did this character come from?" Three asked. "Is he family?"
"He's my uncle."
"Doesn't he know you're being prepared?" Two asked.
"You're not talking about your benefactor's ‘wonderful destiny' again are you? Why don't you give up?"
"Maybe if you don't say anything, your uncle will get tired and go away," Three suggested.
"Not Uncle Marvin!"
"Dr. Levy's not a crackpot," I said, looking straight at my uncle."
"You're not old enough to make that kind of judgment," Marvin exclaimed. "But it's high time you started to act your age. You've got your parents worried sick. If you were mine, I'd straighten you out in no time. And you can bet a good hickory switch, the kind your grandmother used, would speed things up a bit."