Archive for February 4th, 2008

Mental Illness and Choosing Isolation

Monday, February 4th, 2008

There is a question of whether it is healthy for mentally ill people to isolate themselves by their own choice.

My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autism) years before he became ill with schizoaffective disorder. He has always liked his privacy, and he has always spent hours at a time in his room.

solitary man in desert

photo by loufi

After he had his major breakdown last year, he went to live in a personal care home. It has come up twice in the past five months from the people that take care of my son, that his preference for being alone in his room is not healthy, i.e. it gives him nothing to do but listen to the voices for one thing. At one point we were pressured to put him in an adult day program with rather disastrous results. (This story will come in a later post.)

I am now enrolled in a class offered by NAMI called the Family-to-Family program. Like a breath of fresh air, I found support and explanation for my son’s desire for solitude. In short, the class taught that the three predictable features of a person in the post-psychotic stage of mental illness are exhaustion, depression, and delayed stabilization. People in this phase are in need of rest and recuperation because they have undergone major trauma and stress, physically, mentally and emotionally. One evidence of trauma I believe in my son’s case is that he lost thirty pounds with no conscious effort. He has not been in any condition to plan and execute a program of any type, even for weight loss, for months.

Here I have been trying to go to the “experts” about what to do to help my son… the people in charge of the programs. Now I find out that they do not really know what they are about.

I quote from NAMI materials (page 4.37):

This extended period of vulnerability routinely goes unrecognized by professionals as well as families. Although many professionals may now agree that biology causes the illness, they often assume that recovery is solely a function of ‘psychological will.’ Consequently many programs involve ambitious psychosocial treatments and full-day scheduled activities during the early recovery period when the individual is least able to participate.

This vulnerability period may last from months to years. Stress can cause additional relapses. The demand that he be around other people does not serve his need to heal, but I believe serves the needs of those who watch him to be able to actually see him… even when their solicitousness is probably doing him harm.

Understanding is coming very slowly to me.