Writer shares experience with son’s mental illness

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By Mandy Marksteiner

In early March 2006, Tom Steward, a licensed psychotherapist, and his wife began a strange odyssey with one of their sons, who began showing signs of mental illness.

The Stewards flew to California to bring their son back to Los Alamos and for the next three and a half years took care of him at their home. What Steward, his wife, their other two sons, and some trusted friends were able to do was provide a context of love and care that enabled this amazing young man to recuperate from one of the worst diagnoses representing the mental health field. Eventually he recovered and was able to resume college. He is now attending a music conservatory at the University of Denver.

Even though Steward worked in the mental health field for more than 30 years, nothing could have prepared him for that experience. He tells the story in his memoir, “Into Solitary Places; One Father’s Journey of Faith Through His Son’s Struggle with Psychotic Mental Illness.”

Steward raises questions about how we care for people with mental illness. “It’s a bit easier to care for others in a loving manner if it doesn’t take too long. Longer illnesses take more of an enduring effort,” he said. “Yet how are we to provide care for psychosis or any mental illness for that matter? We really don’t have a grid for that one.”

He also gives insight on how to support friends who are in the middle of a crisis. “I would suggest that when someone identifies a current struggle, do not tell your story whether it’s in a current or distant time frame.  But listen to theirs.  Listen. The friends I appreciate the most are the ones who are quiet while I speak or rant in any way that I need. They don’t judge, they don’t try to correct me and they don’t interrupt.”

Steward believes he is in a unique position as a mental health professional and a family member of someone who has journeyed through a mental illness. His message is twofold; one is to raise awareness of mental illness because it is a disease like any other disease. The stigma and fear surrounding many forms of mental illness need to be eliminated. Second, mental illness is not incurable; a person can be completely healed if the right treatment is offered. Not only that, as his book suggests, some of the most exciting research in psychology is not only how to treat mental illness but to prevent it in the first place. A book signing will be held in early January at Otowi Station bookstore. Consult the following web page for details: www.intosolitaryplaces.com.