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Society's fear of mental illness worries one Houston mom

In the wake of so many gun-related killings in the last few months, the nation's attention has not only turned toward gun safety but toward mental illness as well. But with the already existent negative stigma surrounding mental illness, the continued media attention on these shootings is creating an even more powerful bias against people suffering from these mental conditions.

People like 19-year-old Spencer Haskell, who was diagnosed a little less than a year ago with a form of schizophrenia, are some of those sufferers who are experiencing society's fear first-hand. It's a struggle each day, explained his mother recently in an interview for the Washington Post. For them, mental illness brings a level of uncertainty that few residents in Texas can imagine.

As the Houston mother explained to reporters back in May, her son's struggle with schizophrenia has been affecting him since he was child.  Once, feeling like he was a burden, Spencer tried to commit suicide--a failed attempt his mother was both grateful for and also scared of.  It meant uncertainty for her son's future.  It meant not knowing when the next attempt would occur.

But then there's also the fear of what society will think of her son as well.  The recent violence at Newtown, Aurora and Tucson has made the public scared of people with mental disabilities.  Even people such as her son who has shown no violent tendencies and is statistically more likely to become a victim of violence rather than a perpetrator of it.  She recently described an encounter her son had at work not too long ago in which a customer asked him who he was talking to.  He was hearing imaginary voices at the time; but instead of telling the customer that, he simply said that he had a thought disorder.

Because schizophrenia carries with it such a negative stigma, Spencer's mother wonders if anyone will ever be able to see him as she does.  "What I see is a kind, loving, empathetic boy struggling to regain his footing in this world. That's who my son is."

Source: The Washington Post, "A mother helps son in struggle with schizophrenia," Stephanie McCrummen, May 25, 2013