The title of Linda Snow-Griffin’s text ‘Hope and Learning- Our Journey with Schizophrenia struck me as being a different take or lens through which we perceive the mental illness. Despite it affecting nearly 20 million people, it is an illness that does come with certain baggage around stereotypes and misconceptions. Without knowledge and understanding of the complexities and nuances it is undoubtedly open to prejudice and incorrect assumptions.
The book begins with the writer explaining how one day she walked into her teenage son’s room and discovered a notebook entitled, ‘My Schizophrenic Notebook.’ The conversation led to his admittance that he heard several voices and documented them within the notebook. This led to Jacob (not his real name) being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Disorganised Type. The book then chronicles and reflects on how the family came to terms with and navigated Jacob’s diagnosis.
The worry that must have engulfed the writer, herself a psychologist at the time, must have felt overwhelming. Schizophrenia comes with worrying and bleak statistics. As the writer states, ‘the suicide rate is 8.5 times greater for someone with schizophrenia than in the general population’ and between ’20 to 50 percent of people with schizophrenia make suicide attempts.’ Very often medication can have side effects and so it is something that requires professional input, review and management long term.
It was truly remarkable that with his family’s support network he was able to still attend high school, his graduation ceremony and complete an array of summer jobs before starting college. I was in awe of the writer’s tenacity in making sure her son had the support and provision he needed. Despite all the obstacles and setbacks along the way the family met them head on; it was in this sense that the book felt incredibly hopeful. Linda Snow-Griffin’s motivation for writing the book was her belief in ‘hearing the stories of how others cope with serious mental illness’ and how it can offer ‘hope, relief from self-blame and encourage the healing process’. A poignant observation the author made was around labels and not classing someone as ‘Schizophrenic’ but rather someone who has ‘Schizophrenia.’ Words matter and the book works to highlight the reality and truth around this mental illness.
Her love for her son shone through the pages, and I felt I could relate at times with her reflections and questioning whether she had made the right choices regarding her son’s treatment, ‘sometimes I think that motherhood is the birthplace of guilt.’ Both the writer and her son demonstrated bravery and defiance in the face of adversity, ‘I encourage him to keep going and Jacob met the challenge with similar strength and determination.’ The book is incredibly hopeful, and it was satisfying to read that both individuals continue to thrive. By sharing her story, Linda Snow-Griffin stresses the point that ‘inclusion supersedes otherness’ we all have a right to be heard, respected and treated empathetically and with understanding.