BM: I could see why PTSD, from your earlier experiences… but why schizophrenia?
TP: I’m glad you asked! Schizophrenia is one of the most negatively stereotypes and misunderstood of all the mental illnesses. (Each disorder, though, does indeed have its stigma and stereotypes.) There’s a common belief that schizophrenia means split personalities. It doesn’t. There’s also the belief that people with schizophrenia are violent. They’re actually no more likely than anyone else to be violent, but they are often victims of violence. Then there’s the Hollywood stereotype of the “paranoid schizophrenic.” Indeed, one type of schizophrenia is paranoid, but that subtype doesn’t apply to everyone. The term “schizophrenic” is used generically, too, the way “crazy” or “insane” is used casually. All of these things are very hurtful and only increase the stigma and isolation felt by those who experience this serious mental illness. That bothers me, so I wanted to address that in Leave of Absence.
BM: What are the most tragic misconceptions about mental illnesses that you have come across?
TP: The misconception that people with mental illness are unstable, violent, and unreliable is very, very sad. These beliefs keep people from employment and make it hard to find friendships. And it’s so unnecessary because these things just aren’t true.
BM: For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?
TP: There’s a wealth of great non-fiction books available, but I’d actually recommend starting online. Not everything online is accurate, but there are reputable groups whose sites are very accurate and helpful. Here are some good ones:
Each of these has a wealth of information. NAMI, Psych Central, and the Mayo Clinic have factual information about the various mental illnesses, and NAMI, Time to Change, and Bring Change 2 Mind focus on reducing stigma. (There’s overlap among all the sites). These are all credible and offer a nice introduction to mental illness and to specific disorders.
BM: What is the one thing people need to know?
TP: Just like someone with asthma is more than a lung disorder and is still worthy of living life fully and both giving and receiving compassion, so is someone with a mental illness. We no longer refer to someone with asthma as “an asthmatic,” and for the same reasons, we shouldn’t refer to someone with schizophrenic as “a schizophrenic.”
(I’m going to sneak in one more thing: Leave of Absence has a message, but it’s not heavy-handed and preachy!! I promise!)
BM: What do your plans for future projects include?
TP: Lots of things! In order to continue to increase understanding and compassion, I have some online radio interviews lined up as well as presentations and book readings. I’ve been invited to speak about isolation and mental illness at the annual conference for the Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society, Inc. And I have a new novel in the works! This one, while very different from Leave of Absence, also explores mental illness. The story is in my head, and I’m in the boding-with-my-imaginary-friends-who-I-treat-as-real-people stage. It’s fun!