ASU Professor Puts Research To Work Raising Son Who Has Schizophrenia
Marjorie Baldwin studied discrimination against workers with disabilities as a health economist and professor at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, until her son was diagnosed with one of the most stigmatized health conditions there is — schizophrenia.
Now, she studies workers with mental illness and she’s written a new book about her work and her experience raising her son called “Beyond Schizophrenia: Living and Working with a Serious Mental Illness.”
Schizophrenia usually manifests itself in someone in their late teen years or early 20s, she said. For her son, it happened when he was a junior in college.
“But, for months before, he became acutely ill,” she said. “I noticed just a change in his personality, he became more irritable, he became very talkative … his behavior just became more unpredictable.”
She said she tried to explain it away, but that became impossible at a certain point. Then, she said, she thought what most parents would assume based on his behavior, that he was using drugs.
These early signs can be very hard to recognize for many parents, said Baldwin, especially in our society, where we don’t talk about mental illness.
“There’s so much publicity about drugs and the dangers of drugs and the signs that your child is on drugs, but nothing about mental illness,” she said. “That’s one of my big regrets, that I didn’t realize that he needed more help and that I didn’t do more early on."
She said her son wasn’t diagnosed with schizophrenia until he ended up in the emergency room, threatening to take his own life.
That’s a common story for people with serious mental illness.
“When the signs become acute, they end up in the emergency room,” she said.
The first time he was diagnosed, she said her son was enrolled in a clinical trial with a nationally renowned doctor who specialized in schizophrenia. After he left college, when he had a relapse, “it was just literally impossible for me to get him the care that he needed,” she said.
She said she called every social services agency that she could think of and the police.
“I said, ‘My son has schizophrenia, he is off his medication, and he is acutely ill, and I’m worried,'” she said. They told her they couldn’t do anything for him unless he was an imminent danger to himself or others.
Her work focused on discrimination against workers with disabilities before her son’s diagnosis. After her son became ill, she refocused her work on mental illness. Now, she’s done a number of studies on how people with mental illness fare in the workplace.
“And I realized that schizophrenia, in particular, and mental illness, in general, are just the most stigmatized health conditions,” she said. “And the stigma’s persistent and it’s pervasive across cultures.”
She said hopes her book brings hope to others who are facing serious mental illness, but that it’s also a plea to legislators: “Do something about the mental health system that really makes it so difficult for families to get their loved ones the care they need,” she said.