When a tragic event occurs, such as the shootings at Newtown, Virginia Tech or Columbine, everyone looks for what could have pushed the shooter over the edge. In the cases mentioned, mental illness was assigned at least part of the blame.
A woman has written a book in which she suggests mental health professionals, treatment plans and common attitudes need to be changed before those with mental illness will get the help they need.
Joyce Thomas of Vanlue is to be at Paper and Ink, downtown Tiffin, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday to sign copies of "Miracle Complete," in which she describes her experience with mental illness and the mental health system.
The author, Joyce Thomas of Vanlue, and the cover of her book.
Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than 20 years ago, Thomas has been pronounced "cured" by three psychiatrists and by herself, but she is on a mission to advocate for the mentally ill and to press for changes in psychiatric procedures.
Thomas said she sees the book as a way to offer her insight to elected officials, physicians, counselors and ordinary citizens.
"This illness can be managed, conquered and overcome with the correct caring medical professionals, social workers, counselors, procedures and medications," Thomas writes in the final chapter.
Her sentiments have been echoed in recent years by the local Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, which reminds the public "Treatment works. People recover."
Getting the proper diagnosis and treatment often are the biggest obstacles for individuals.
In the author's view, the mentally ill have been labeled, rejected and ignored, even when they seek help for their conditions. Walls of suspicion and distrust have resulted in frustration, isolation, sadness and anger.
Thomas said she has experienced these emotions and more during the course of her illness. Her book's introduction credits a supportive family, skilled professionals, insurance coverage, medication and, most of all, her Christian faith as the forces that enabled her to resume a normal life.
Christmas usually is a festive time to spend with family and friends, but a period of lethargy and loneliness descended on Thomas during one Christmas season. Her children were ages 1 and 4 at the time. She forced herself into the usual activities even as she was losing touch with reality.
Christmas Day, her behavior shocked her parents, her husband, Kendall, and other relatives. Thomas writes she could not understand her own actions and thoughts.
The day after Christmas, she was hospitalized for evaluation. Even though the physician was compassionate and knowledgeable, Thomas did not fully trust him, nor did she feel he trusted her. She did not like some of the questions he asked. When he spoke to Kendall privately, she felt the doctor was not respecting her privacy.
Sometimes, he used stock phrases such as "That's just part of your psychosis," which Thomas resented.
Medication and group therapy were prescribed for Thomas. The drugs helped her moods but they also had some unpleasant side effects. The group therapy took place in a dark basement room with an unenthusiastic leader. Thomas wanted less secrecy and more honesty about her condition, and she thought her family could have benefited from counseling, as well.
Thomas found some relief from sharing her dark thoughts with her doctor. His willingness to listen led to a bond of trust between them.
For her part, Thomas promised herself not to disrupt the action of her medication by consuming alcohol or other mind-altering substances. As much as possible, she also avoided people and situations that upset her. Scripture and inspirational reading, music, physical activity, TV game shows also were helpful, as well as spending time with beloved pets and caring, positive people.
Even so, the illness flared multiple times, causing tension in her marriage. Doctors came and went; records were not always transferred in a timely manner. Thomas found it difficult to re-tell her story again and again. Sometimes, the doctor was more anxious to change her medication than to listen to her concerns.
Thomas grew impatient with the "cookie cutter" approach some professionals wanted to take.
"I was tired of being stereotyped and classified by physicians, family members and society as being untrustworthy because of my diagnosis of mental illness," Thomas writes.
At her church, Thomas gave testimony on the role of faith in her recovery. She also was invited to speak to inmates at a prison. That seemed a good fit for her, because she could identify with being locked up and disregarded. She could understand the anger many of them felt.
"No medication will ever take anger away," she writes.
In 2011, an orange tulip sprouted in a flower bed at the Thomas home. She thought all the bulbs had been removed from that spot, but there it was, reminding her of the hardy inmates in their orange garb. Thomas took a photo and used it on the cover of her book.
The author would like to give orange wrist bands to released inmates as a reminder to persevere and move on.
Thomas self-published "Miracle Complete" in January. She did her first book signing May 11 in Findlay.
In the book's conclusion, Thomas reflects on all that has happened. Being hospitalized has humbled her and helped to be more tolerant and less judgmental of others. Many people have no faith, family or financial resources for support. If God can forgive terrible crimes, Thomas feels humans must do the same.
"I do not know their inner souls, but God does. There are reasons why they have chosen violence," she writes.
People who are driven to kill may be ashamed to seek help. They may not be aware of a mental condition that could be causing such thoughts.
Thomas said she sees the necessity for more research, improved training for professionals and more access to treatment.
"It must start with honesty and respectfulness," she writes.