"Four Stories"
Produces Hundreds More

NEW YORK CITYVOICES: August/September 1998

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By Ken Steele, Publisher

On Saturday, August 1,1998, the story of my recovery from schizophrenia was shown on "Four Stories," a television program on WNBC-TV in New York City. Less than a minute after my number was given at the end of the segment, my phone began to ring. At press time, nine hundred and twenty four people have called.

Many calls have been from teenagers and college students who, like me when I was age 15, have just begun to hear voices. They don't know what to do or where to go. Some don't want to tell their parents. Others don't want to share this with anyone they know. I understand. I was there once myself. But after seeing "Four Stories" they reached out to share their stories and get help. For the first time, many of them allowed themselves to be connected to psychiatric professionals. Others called and asked for information, giving their names and addresses, even some telephone numbers, so they could receive materials on schizophrenia, including NYC Voices.

Other callers included parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends of the family, teachers, guidance counselors, and an incredible number of psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists. The most amazing thing is how little information these people have about schizophrenia and the new medications and treatments. And this included the doctors and mental health professionals. Most of the persons with schizophrenia they were calling about were on the older medications with the melange of difficult side effects.

Many of the family members and relatives had reached out before but received little help, they told me. I was astonished. They didn't want me to pass them on to other help lines. Many of them had already called help lines and told me the people answering the calls didn't have the time to listen and just passed them along to other help lines.

One thing I asked all of the callers to do was to call me right back if they did not receive the information they needed from the resources I offered them. Unfortunately, many of them did call me back and I had to connect them with more reliable resources.

There are many stories I can share with NYC Voices' readers from the response following the "Four Stories," WNBC broadcast, but it would take too long. So I have decided to share on of the most difficult and, in the end satisfying, ones with you.

I received a call from a mother of a 19-year-old son who I spoke with for close to an hour. During most of this time, I had no idea where this call was going. It went along like most calls from parents and relatives. We discussed the usual things with her asking lots of questions and doing most of the talking. But then during the closing minutes of our conversation, something extraordinary happened.  She told me she had never taken her son to see a doctor. While she was at work or away from home she had to lock him in his bedroom to keep him safe. She told me this in a conversational tone. She continued speaking to me, telling me the reason she didn't want a doctor to see him was because she had seen the horrible state hospital movies on television (specifically naming "Asylum," "Snake Pit," and "Cuckoo's Nest") and she would never allow her son to be put in places like these. Then she repeated that she really identified with my story because of the abuse I had suffered in the hospitals, including seclusion rooms and four-point restraints.

I asked how long her son had been ill. She replied, "since 1994." Her statement took my breath away. Finally , I quietly encouraged here to take her son to a doctor, reassuring her that few people go to state hospitals these days. Then I offered her the names of doctors I know she could trust.  "No." she said. She knew what was best for her son. We ended the call on a congenial note (I didn't want to alarm her), and I asked for her address to send her materials. After taking a few minutes to recover from the impact of the conversation, I called the local 911 number in her community, telling them the story about her son. The emergency operator thanked me, but I had no idea what would happen.

Then, a few days later, relatives of this family called me to tell me how grateful they were that I had done what they could not do. They said the son was hospitalized and he was on medication for the first time ever and he was already responding well to it. The mother was very angry and frightened, but she was starting to realize the importance of treatment for her son, They had no idea what kind of gift they were giving me with their phone calls.

This was clearly the most dramatic call of them all, but many others had never been seen by psychiatrists and they needed to be evaluated and referred. I am stunned at how many people know so little about schizophrenia, and how the primary source of information was from TV, primarily fictitious movies and tabloid news sources.

So many people's lives were touched by "Four Stories" telling my story. Hopefully, the quality of these lives will improve too. They now have more accurate information and telephone numbers to call for even more resources. All thanks to "Four Stories" on WNBC.

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