Beyond Schizophrenia: Michael’s Journey
Susan Frances Dunham
Modern History Press (2011)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer, PhD, for Reader Views (12/10)
As long as I have been a Psychologist, I have always believed, as the author does, that we fear mental health issues because we don’t understand them. In this moving book Susan Dunham talks about the journey of her wonderful and talented son through schizophrenia. What started out to be a beautiful life with a brilliant son turned into a nightmare no parent should have to endure and neither should the individual who has encountered a mental health issue.
Part of our problem, as the author states, is that we have healthcare providers who are not adequately trained in mental health issues; individuals are being misdiagnosed or over medicated. Then you have the media, which tosses around psychiatric terms like they were water; no wonder the general population is so confused.
Mike was a wonderful, intelligent son who showed great promise in his life. He was funny, caring and a very sensitive young man. There were two things he wanted out of life- go to college and get into modeling/acting. However, his brain had other plans for him. It started with little unusual behaviors and then, when Susan and her husband Mark went away for five days, a whole new persona took over Mike. After many trips to the hospitals and doctors, Mike was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Susan does an excellent job of describing schizophrenia through her personal experiences and much research. She and Mark were at a loss for what to do – just when things seemed to get better, another issue would pop up. Susan, a nurse, did what most parent(s) would by asking: “Why didn’t I know the warning signs? How could I have stopped this? Why couldn’t it be me?” The problem is you can’t stop it – you can help things go smoother, but you can’t stop it.
Through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Susan and Mark learned so much from other parents and professionals, along with reading many books on the subject. Family and friends provided additional support- emotional and physical, even when Susan didn’t want to tell anyone about Mike and what was going on.
One of the things that Susan discusses is the lack of quality care in some psychiatric facilities. I see this all the time when I visit facilities – it seems as if the staff doesn’t care- medicate so they don’t bother you. They provide no information or support for families. However, this is not all places- we are getting better but we have a long way to go.
Mike was a fighter. He didn’t let go even when he wanted to end it all; it took years, it wasn’t an overnight cure. Actually, there is no cure for schizophrenia.
I loved the honesty in this book and the will to not give up regardless of what others said. Family members are often the only advocates for their loved one. What the author shares will say more about this illness than any textbook or class. If nothing else, readers will learn what it is truly like to live with someone who has a mental illness and have no control over anything.
I applaud Susan and her husband Mark, and their son Mike, for their love, dedication and willingness to share this journey with readers.
I would love to use “Beyond Schizophrenia: Michael’s Journey” as required reading for my online psychology classes that I teach. It is written with love – not to make readers feel sorry for the family, but to educate. If you can read one person (and I’m sure Susan has reached more) you have done a fantastic job.