Letter to the Times: Honoring leadership of 2 women diagnosed with schizophrenia

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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There is a long history of stigma toward those diagnosed with schizophrenia. I would like to honor two women diagnosed with schizophrenia at some point in their lives who have led remarkable, heroic lives. 

The first is Princess Alice, mother of Prince Philip. She succored people wounded in combat, sheltered Jews during World War II and started a group to help folks in Greece after the war. She organized soup kitchens and two shelters for lost children during the second war in Greece. She passed having spent all of her inherited fortune on helping others. She was considered an oddball because she thought God talked to her directly. She is recognized as “Righteous Among Nations” by Israel. 

The other woman is Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 17. She was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, seclusion and powerful antipsychotics. After praying in a small chapel, she felt a sense of divine inspiration. Then she attended school, became a psychologist and developed a system of therapy used worldwide. She said she never took medication again after that. The stigma within the mental health system itself was so pervasive that she never revealed her own history until she was 68.

Many of the best ideas for “recovery” have come from folks who have experienced mental illness themselves. These remarkable lives stand in contrast to the jailing, homelessness and, in fact, death in the streets I have seen of folks with mental illness in Lawrence, Kansas. The “Recovery Movement” came from folks with mental problems themselves. For far too long, mental health professionals have given people with serious problems negative prognostications about their future, stating that it was impossible to recover from serious mental illness. 

— Sharilyn Wells, Lawrence

Get mental health help in Lawrence

These resources are available 24/7 if you or someone you know needs immediate mental health help:

• Douglas County Treatment and Recovery Center: 785-843-9192; 1000 W. Second St., Lawrence, Kansas; trcdgks.org
• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center: 785-843-9192; bertnash.org
• HeadQuarters Kansas: 785-841-2345; hqkansas.org
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 988; veterans, press 1
• SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator and Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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