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Voices for Recovery

Victoria Costello (06/18/2013)

At age 17, my son Alex lost his ability to finish a whole sentence, get a night’s sleep, or face the other kids at school.  The doctors who examined him at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute told me he should stay for a month so they could make a proper diagnosis and stabilize what they called his “psychotic symptoms.”

Having raised two athletic sons, I’d been in an emergency room with each of them more than once, but I can’t imagine any two words coming from the mouth of a doctor putting more terror into the heart of a mother than “psychotic symptoms.”  But what I was about to learn would open my eyes to much more.

From a simple family mental health history interview, I learned a lot.  For the first time, I considered that a grandfather I’d never met, whose early death on a railroad track had always been called an accident, could have taken his own life.  Or that the heavy drinking of several family members was probably an attempt to self-medicate severe depression, perhaps even bipolar disorder in the cases of my grandfather and sister.  Within six months of that interview, I also began treatment for my own life-long depression.

After nearly losing my son to an illness, I’ve come to believe that those of us who survive such a family history have a special responsibility to break this wall of silence.  After three years spent in psychotherapy and taking a brief course of antipsychotic medication, Alex was able to return to school and complete his education at a prestigious art college.  Today he’s working and living a full life – as is his mother.

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