Contributor James R. Campbell – My Defining Day: A View of the Day that Changed My Life Forever

For the mentally ill and their loved ones, in the hope that things will get better.

Monday, September 22, 1975, the break room at the West Texas Lighthouse for the Blind in San Angelo, Texas. It was just after ten o’clock in the morning, and we were on morning break. I stopped making pins and went to the break room. It was here that I noticed one of the ladies who worked there.

I sat down beside her on the couch, and we began to talk. I soon became comfortable with her. The staff was concerned; the other clients were dismissive, at best.

Later, one of the supervisors told me that the girl in question suffered from schizophrenia, a debilitating mental disease punctuated by loss of contact with reality, delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking. We know much more about it than we did in 1975. Brain scans have revealed that the brains of those with schizophrenia shrink over time, particularly in the frontal lobes, thus accounting for the deterioration in their conditions.

I guess it was all of the meditation that I was doing that prepared me for this challenge. At night, I would often wonder how the girl was. She got aggressive at work on November 3, 1975, and they had to let her go. Her situation, and my helplessness with regard to it, bothered me profoundly.

I never thought of going to college, even though this was the dream of every teacher that ever had me in a class, let alone my cherished aunt and grandmother. On the first anniversary of our fateful meeting, I decided to be in college by the first of September in 1978. My first day at Odessa College was June first of that year. I have a Bachelor’s in psychology, and though I don’t have a job, my degree has not gone to waste. Statistics would stand in the way of a master’s degree; I am weak in math skills.

When the state hospitals closed in the sixties, it was thought at the time that the new antipsychotic medicines on the market would allow the mentally ill to live among us and function normally. But these drugs have undesirable side effects, and the patients refused them. The result was a revolving door of homelessness, jail stays, and involuntary hospitalizations for these people. The newer drugs are no better, regrettably.

I have long favored a community based approach to treatment of mental illness, but we are hampered by lack of funds. This, I believe, is due to the waste of the money that we, the taxpayers, pay. Every community needs a place set aside for these patients, and I have long been a proponent of better drug therapies with the fewest possible side effects. But, again, this takes money. Until we get to a point where we are willing to provide for the mentally ill at home in our society, we will continue to bear the burden, and only we can change it.

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