The Reason Why “Grand” is in the Word “Grandfather”
#BreakingTheStigma Surrounding Mental Illness
by Allyson McAndrews, M.Ed.
McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
Due to the work of many compassionate and broad-minded people, our nation has made great strides over the past several decades to help #breakthestigma surrounding mental illness and disabilities. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. There were periods of time in history when people were silently suffering – knowing that disclosing their pain could only lead to public shame. It is just as disheartening to know that individuals born with intellectual disabilities were often rejected by society and separated from their families at birth. The NPR and PBS affiliate, WITF, recently produced a documentary called “I Go Home”about the fate of children who were born with intellectual disabilities years ago. Doctors often told parents that their child would never have a chance in life and that they should be sent away, institutionalized and inevitably be forgotten about. The footage from inside these institutions are disturbing, disgusting, and unbelievable. It was not until the 1960s when the media began to shed light on the treatment of persons with disabilities and the public became more and more aware of what was going on inside these institutions. I acknowledge this piece of history because it represents the progress that our society has made with breaking the stigma. Such progress could not have been made without the help of people from older generations.
I was diagnosed with OCD and depression around the year 2000 when I was a young teenager. I tried to hide my feelings for a while until it became too hard and visible to others. My parents were very accepting of the fact that I needed help (a trait that is still hard for many to digest) and thankfully I made great improvements. I am a huge advocate for therapy, open communication, and modern day psychiatry. However, I would be lying if I said that there is a “cure” for depression and mental illness. About five years later, I was a freshman at Villanova University where I was a cheerleader – a dream I have had since I was a young girl when my parents and grandfather would take me to basketball games. But depression can creep in when it may appear that you are living your dream.
In early 2006, just over a decade ago, I was hospitalized and put into an inpatient psychiatric program for depression. I describe my experience there as one of the scariest, yet most rewarding experiences I have ever had. It changed my life for the better. During visiting hours one evening, my grandpa came to visit me. Born in 1922, Grandpa was 83 years old at the time I was in treatment. One would think that he would have little understanding of depression, let alone have the desire to visit a psychiatric center. Grandpa grew up during the “Mental illness – We don’t talk about that” era. It said a lot about his accepting and open-minded character that he came to see me. The only way I was allowed to leave the hospital was to either be discharged or signed-out and escorted to an AA meeting. Grandpa looked at me and said “I’m getting you out of here for a bit. Come join me at AA.” I looked at him confused as to why someone without an alcohol addiction would attend such a meeting. He said, “Go and just listen. It doesn’t matter what your issue is in life. You can always learn by listening to others.”
He was right. We can learn from anyone’s experiences – no matter how different they may be from your own. Grandpa’s presence at the hospital not only showed his support for me, it showed his acceptance of mental illness – something many people in his generation don’t talk about. His visit educated me that mental illness, disabilities, addictions, and everything in between require a global awareness. Being bias towards others and avoiding such topics is a universal setback.
Because of people like my grandfather, there is more awareness and education about mental illness and disabilities. These terms do not carry the same “taboo” title as they may have years ago. He died at the age of 94 on his birthday, June 12th, 2016, a week before Fathers’ Day. My grandfather left a “Grand” legacy of open-mindedness that I will keep with me forever. I love you, GRANDpa.