Thank you for taking the time and devoting your attention to literature involving real-life depictions of psychosis, and especially to the recently published biography Way Out: A True Account of Schizophrenia.
I would like to discuss in brief the powerful potential impact of Way Out and other books like it. Books like these are not merely good reads; they are also catalysts for individual and societal change.
A few years ago, Mark Vonnegut (son of author Kurt Vonnegut Jr.) re-released his classic schizophrenia memoir The Eden Express. Its new introduction discusses ways “to lessen the stigma” of schizophrenia. This is very needful. All too often, people with this type of disorder are prejudged to be monsters. This seldom-deserved yet potently poisonous stigma can act to undermine the self-esteem and induce identity crisis in the afflicted. Not to mention making it hard to secure and to maintain employment and rewarding interpersonal relationships.
In telling the story of Eugene Uttley’s life and struggles with schizophrenia, the author of Way Out, Arthur Thomas Morton, joins Vonnegut’s fight against stigma.
How do the texts of The Eden Express and Way Out function to fight the deplorable stigma which accompanies a schizophrenia diagnosis? By introducing the reader to a human being, rather than a scary ‘psycho’.
Another recent schizophrenia memoir is The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks. Though Saks suffers chronic schizophrenia, she is the Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Law School and a research clinical associate at the Los Angeles Psychiatric Society and Institute. Touching on stigma, Saks has said this:
“Some people say I’m unique, that there aren’t other people with schizophrenia like me. Well, there are people like me out there, but the stigma is so great that they don’t come forward.”
Who knows how many people are ‘in the closet’ about having experienced delusions and hallucinations? Schizophrenia is difficult enough to endure without also having to hide the fact that one is going through it!
Saks has spoken out against treating the mentally ill as criminals:
“We must stop criminalizing mental illness. It’s a national tragedy and scandal that the L.A. County Jail is the biggest psychiatric facility in the United States.”
Authors like Saks, Vonnegut, and Morton counteract the criminalizing effect of mass media, where the issue of schizophrenia rarely arises unless it’s tied with violent crime.
Perhaps more important even than combating negative stigma in general is the specific effect that authors like these can have on readers who suffer or have suffered psychosis, or who have friends or family in this spectrum of disorder: letting them know that they are not alone. This can be a deeply healing realization.
In sum, on both societal and individual levels, books which illuminate the complex experience of people who suffer delusions and hallucinations are of great value. They possess the potential to enact positive change in the world.
Thanks for listening. Please help spread the word.