HOUSTON — "I was seven when I first started hearing voices and having hallucinations and delusions," says University of Houston student Emmett Biffle, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. "I would hear these aliens talking. 'He'll do nicely. He's the one.'"
That's reality for some people with mental health disorders. And on this World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10), Linda Stalters knows that better than most. She founded the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA).
"World Mental Health Day is very important because we still are in the dark ages," she explains, "discriminating against people, not providing treatment, ostracizing people, punishing people who live with a brain disorder."
Musician 'Jessica' suffers from paranoia and mania. "If I decide to tell someone about my psychosis and I say the word 'psychosis,' they automatically go to, 'Oh my God. She's gonna kill me or she's gonna do this or she's gonna do that.'"
"We wanna impress upon people, these are not mental health issues," says Stalters. "These are brain disorders, neurological disorders. It's mostly genetic."
"My father committed suicide when I was a teenager," explains Ismael who has schizophrenia, "but nobody, nobody wanted to talk about it." He adds, "I remember that I asked (my dad), and he said, 'Yes, I hear voices and I don't know what to do with them because they are real.' And I heard voices, too, so understood him."
"Just knowing that someone else has gone through the same things that I've gone through is very comforting," admits Jessica.
"Family support is critical, crucial," says Stalters. "People with severe psychiatric disorders are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, but the process is so profoundly complex that unless you have an advocate you aren't going to get it."
'John' has a family member with schizophrenia. He explains, "We circled around our family member and gave them as much love and understanding, even when we didn't really know what was going on with them ourselves."
Stalters warns there is bad news for folks who think you can self-medicate your brain issues away with marijuana. "Smoking pot, if you are at risk for psychosis, will trigger psychosis," she says, "and I've even known a person who lived with schizophrenia and their roommate smoked pot, and it triggered their psychosis."
If you think you may have some brain issues, seek help. It won't be as easy to treat as a sore throat, but despite what some people think, it's really not any different.
SARDAA is having a Casino Night to help raise awareness. Click here for more details.