When managing schizophrenia, many of us have come to accept that there is a stigma around the disorder. But what happens when the stigma is from the medical professionals who are supposed to be treating, diagnosing, and helping you? Mental health professionals can even turn away people with a schizophrenia diagnosis. When we’ve been turned away by a therapist, psychologist, what happens next? Where do we end up?
Studies have found that mental health professionals have a tendency to view people with serious mental illnesses more negatively than positively, characterizing them as manipulative, lacking in willpower, disturbing, ineffective, and difficult to communicate with.
In this episode of Inside Schizophrenia, host Rachel Star Withers and co-host Gabe Howard look at schizophrenia stigma in the medical community.
Joining is guest Desire’ Brown, a mental health counselor who has worked with various social work organizations. She currently works with Monarch, which provides hope, promotes wellness, and empowers individuals and families impacted by mental illness, substance abuse, intellectual and developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injury.
Desire’ Lillian Brown, MBA, BA, is currently working on her second master’s degree. She has been counseling adults in mental health for 8 years and working with SPMI diagnostics for 4 years. She works with clients from all walks of life.
“I love helping others, it is a calling from GOD.” — Desire’
Monarch is nationally accredited by The Joint Commission. We employ approximately 1,400 staff members, many who work with individuals and their families to identify and overcome many of the barriers they often face by providing varying levels of support. To join our team, visit Monarch Careers to learn more and view available positions. Join us today in making our mission, vision and values a reality.
Monarch provides hope, promotes wellness, and empowers individuals and families impacted by mental illness, substance use disorders, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and traumatic brain injury.
Rachel Star Withers creates videos documenting her schizophrenia, ways to manage and let others like her know they are not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written Lil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids and a tool for schizophrenics, To See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal. Fun Fact: She has wrestled alligators.
To learn more about Rachel, please visit her website, RachelStarLive.comm.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Schizophrenia. Hosted by Rachel Star Withers, an advocate who lives openly with Schizophrenia. We’re talking to experts about all aspects of life with this condition. Welcome to the show!
Rachel Star Withers: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline media podcast. I’m your host, Rachel Star Withers, here with my great co-host, Gabe Howard. When dealing with the diagnosis of schizophrenia, many of us have come to accept that there is a stigma around the disorder. But what happens when the stigma is from the medical professionals who are supposed to be treating you, diagnosing you and helping you? Mental health professionals can even turn away people with a schizophrenia diagnosis. When we’ve been turned away by a therapist, psychologist, what happens next? Where do we end up? Today, we’re taking a look at schizophrenia stigma in the medical community. Joining us is Desire’ Brown, a mental health counselor who has worked with various social work organizations. She currently works with Monarch that provides hope, promotes wellness, and empowers individuals and families impacted by mental illness, substance abuse, intellectual and developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injury.
Gabe Howard: It’s worth noting, Rachel, that we’ve even had trouble booking guests on the show. We’ve reached out to medical professionals and we’ve asked them, do you want to be on a Healthline Media podcast? And they’re all for it. They’re really excited because, you know, Healthline is the number one health website in the world. And then we tell them the topic. It’s like schizophrenia and etc. And it’s, oh, we don’t talk about schizophrenia or we don’t know enough about schizophrenia. We’re not comfortable, you know, being in the schizophrenia field, we’d be happy to talk about X or Y or Z, but we stay away from schizophrenia. And now obviously we don’t want people to come on the show and talk about things that they’re uncomfortable with or that they’re not experts in it. But we get this a lot.
Rachel Star Withers: And I get it. See, the thing is, I expect stigma from the general population. So, when we’re doing an episode, for instance, about dating, yes, we had an incredibly hard time finding a guest. I was looking for a dating coach who could talk to us about schizophrenia and dating, and I had a very hard time and thankfully wonderful Dr. Ashley Snyder, who is a psychotherapist and life coach, jumped at the chance to be on our show. So, make sure you check out that episode, which was Tips on Dating. And we’ve had some other ones. In our episode about traveling with schizophrenia was also difficult to find a guest. And we found Laura Motta, who is the editorial director of LonelyPlanet.com. So, we’ve had some amazing guests, but I can see why people in those different industries who are talking about dating, we’re talking about travel might be hesitant about wanting to talk about schizophrenia in relation. But Gabe, when I reach out to somebody who is in the mental health field as a professional who many times works with people with serious mental disorders and they tell me that they don’t work with people with schizophrenia, that that really hits me hard, that it’s a, it’s something that it’s hard for me to accept because I’m like, what? How can you have stigma? You work in this industry. You have to come across people with schizophrenia in your day-to-day life. How do you turn them away like that? That’s always shocking to me.
Gabe Howard: I can see that because where else are you supposed to go? You’re told that mental health professionals are the people who treat schizophrenia. And then you get there and they’re like, well, we treat them all but you. I imagine that has to hit a certain kind of way.
Rachel Star Withers: And recently, Gabe, we had this issue come up with searching for a guest for an upcoming episode here. And it made me kind of look back in my own life. So, Gabe, I have a question for you. How many times have you been turned down for treatment from a mental health professional, whether a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist due to your diagnosis of bipolar?
Gabe Howard: I want to answer this as honestly as I can. So
Rachel Star Withers: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: I want to be clear. Just bipolar disorder, meaning will you see Gabe? He has bipolar? Zero. However, I have been turned down by therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists when they see that I’m not doing well. So, Gabe is very, very sick. He needs help. And they’ll say, oh, well, we can’t see him. So, when I’m most vulnerable, when I’m in most need of help, I’m too much trouble. And I’m not the kind of patient that they’re looking for.
Rachel Star Withers: Just based on my diagnosis, not on them treating me and me getting worse, just based on my diagnosis of schizophrenia in my life. I’ve been turned down four times.
Gabe Howard: And that’s just you personally.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, just and that’s like I went through the intro I mentioned. Oh, and I have schizophrenia. And it was oh, and there’s always like this moment where I see their eyes glaze over and it’s like, oh, no, I am not qualified for this. And yeah, four times this has happened in my life, which I really didn’t think that was weird until our situation here on the show recently. And I started looking back over my life and I was like, wait a second, does this happen to other people? Do other people go to a therapist and say, yes, I’m struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts? And they’re like, whoa, I can’t see you? I mean, I was I was expecting something simple like dating. I thought maybe you were struggling with schoolwork or something, but. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t handle that like. I really thought, Yeah, this must be a normal occurrence, right?
Gabe Howard: I want to make sure that the audience understands that, obviously, if you’re not qualified to treat somebody, you shouldn’t do it. But you often get into this loop where Gabe goes to the doctor, the doctor says, I don’t treat schizophrenia, try this person. Now they’ve met the law because they’ve given the referral. But then you go to that doctor and that doctor, of course, says, oh, well, I don’t treat schizophrenia either. And on and on and on and on. So, it’s a minefield to navigate under the best of circumstances. And of course, when you’re seeking out medical care, you’re often not in the best of circumstances.
Rachel Star Withers: The American Psychological Association has long held that psychologists should not discriminate. And you kind of would be like, well, Rachel, isn’t this kind of discriminating? They don’t discriminate against race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, which I feel there could be an argument made there under disability, age or other characteristics. However, yes, it is permissible for a mental health professional to decline services if they reasonably believe that they cannot provide competent and safe service by professional standards. Also, other reasons you might be denied could be your insurance. They just flat out don’t take your insurance so you have no money to pay them. That’s a that’s a quick way to get denied and conflicts of interest. Let’s say, you know this person in your normal community and they don’t feel like they can adequately treat you because you and their mom are friends, etc. Those reasons. But I’m talking about just being turned away because I said I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. When I reach out to a therapist, I’m not reaching out to them for them to prescribe medicine to me. I understand only a psychiatrist or a nurse practitioners can do that. I’m reaching out to them to help me with my day-to-day life. And that’s what’s so hard for me to take is when they turn me down because of that. It’s like, well, I don’t deal with schizophrenia. I’m like, well, I don’t really need you to help me deal with my hallucinations. I’m not asking you to make them go away. I’m asking you to help me as I go to my part time job. That’s what I need coping mechanisms with. That’s what I need help in my day-to-day life. And it’s hurtful to have them not even let you get to that point because all they heard was schizophrenia. Oh, my gosh, I can’t handle this girl.
Gabe Howard: And I imagine it’s difficult, Rachel, because you do live with schizophrenia. But of course, you’re also a human who lives on the planet, so you have all the same problems as everybody else. Maybe you’re having relationship issues, maybe you’re having family issues, maybe you’re mad at your best friend, maybe all of your kids left home. Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’re not managing your money properly. All of the pressures of life are also present to you, but you don’t have access or as easy access to a therapist because you also have schizophrenia. So, this, of course, makes it more difficult for you to get help. And since we live in a world where the person with schizophrenia is often blamed for their own problem, it’s worth noting to all of the listeners out there who are caregivers or who don’t live with schizophrenia, when you’re asking yourself, well, why won’t my loved one just get better? Why won’t they learn coping skills? Why won’t they try harder? This access is largely denied. Or denied might be too strong of a word. I want to be really, really fair. But there are many, many barriers to get there and barriers that people who do not live with schizophrenia simply don’t have.
Rachel Star Withers: A statement that I found online from a clinic. And I do appreciate that they had this statement on their website as opposed to me going to their clinic thinking I’m going to get help and then being told this statement. But I want you to listen to this, Gabe, because it kind of drives home what we’re saying. At the clinic, we want to be transparent about the services we provide. Since we do not have hospital privileges, we humbly realize that we cannot provide the care that certain clients deserve. It goes on to list what those who those certain clients might be. If any patient meets these criteria, we do not recommend them scheduling a meeting here with the clinic, any previous psychiatric hospitalizations, current or previous psychosis, a diagnosis or possible diagnosis of schizophrenia. I mean, that’s a mental health clinic.. And I mean, it was, it was a beautiful website. It was inpatient and outpatient. But wow, they flat out say on their website that even a possible diagnosis of schizophrenia. So, I mean, you don’t even have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. But if it’s looking like this may be, I’m sorry, we can’t handle you, and I appreciate that at least they’re up front. But as someone with schizophrenia, that makes me think, wow, I must be really messed up that these people had to put a note on their website saying, don’t even like try to come and see us. We will turn you away. It’s a hard thing to take. What I’ve realized the past few months is that this is something that most of us with schizophrenia have come across in our life’s multiple times. And we’ll continue to happen is that we’ll be turned down for even just basic care of, hey, I need help with job skills. Whoa, wait, no, you need to see a psychiatrist. And I guarantee you, going to a psychiatrist and telling them you need help with your job skills, they’re not going to help you. They’re going to be like, that’s not what I do. I prescribe medication.
Gabe Howard: And there is, of course, a shortage of psychiatrists. So aside from the fact that it’s not necessarily their lane, it’s also very difficult to get in to see a psychiatrist for their intended purpose. If you are somebody who is living with schizophrenia and you’ve got the whole world coming down on you saying, why won’t you get better? And everywhere you turn, you’re either being judged for not getting help or you’re being told that you’re too sick to get help. Rachel, I want to I want to ask you, how does it feel?
Rachel Star Withers: It’s frustrating and I think it’s more frustrating the fact that I thought it was normal up until just the other month that I had just accepted that, okay, this is a normal occurrence, is you come across people who think, whoa, you’re too sick to help. And I just was kind of assuming this was a normal occurrence for people seeking help in the mental health area, not just for people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, many of us with schizophrenia are labeled a high-risk psychiatric patient. And if you’re like, well, Rachel, what exactly is high risk? It could be anything. There is no set definition on what defines a high-risk psychiatric patient. It’s going to be different to different organizations, to different professions. However, some of the common things that might have someone listed as high risk is suicidal or homicidal statements, making threats of violence, cutting or other self-injurious behaviors, delusional thinking, paranoia, experiencing hallucinations or disorientation, hearing voices, not being able to tell what is real. Do you notice, that it went from violent to right into the symptoms of schizophrenia?
Gabe Howard: Yes,
Rachel Star Withers: It went from being okay, this person, as a worker, I’m scared for my life. I’m scared. They’re making threats. They’re homicidal to oh, by the way, they’re delusional, too. I mean, delusional thinking, experiencing hallucinations, unable to tell what is real. Those are the classic hallmark signs of schizophrenia. To me. It’s like they’re basically saying people with schizophrenia, we can’t go ahead and just spell it out. But no, people with schizophrenia and ones who we think are dangerous.
Gabe Howard: That’s got to be extraordinarily frustrating for people living with schizophrenia, for people who suspect that they might have schizophrenia and of course, their loved ones who are trying to get help for people who live with or they suspect may have schizophrenia. And of course, all of this is happening in a mental health safety net or field that already has major, major, major gaps. This just closes more doors and of course, leaves people trying to manage this illness, feel more ignored and more hopeless.
Rachel Star Withers: They found that health professionals perceptions of schizophrenia, depression and substance abuse do not differ from the views held by the general population. And I feel that most of us think, well, if you went to medical school, if you work in this environment, you should be enlightened, right? You should know that people with schizophrenia were not crazy killers on the loose. But the truth is that, yeah, they have stigma and beliefs that are incorrect, just like the general population. Among nursing professionals, different studies have found that they perceived individuals with mental illness as dangerous, unpredictable and emotionally unstable. And I’m going to say, yeah, that that sounds exactly like the stigma we talk about on this show all the time from movies, from TV shows, about people with schizophrenia being supposedly dangerous, unpredictable and unstable. It’s just this stereotype that people with severe mental disorders are dangerous. And unfortunately, in the medical community, that means that those of us who have this diagnosis, we’re not going to get the same care that other people will. And even if we are getting care, I mean, can you imagine what it’s like to have the nurse or the doctor treating you be afraid of you? Be on edge that thinking, Oh, my God. Being like, oh no, this person could snap at any second here as I’m drawing their blood. I mean, even though I’m just coming in as Rachel here. They’re seeing schizophrenic.
Gabe Howard: They’re perceiving you as a serial killer, somebody with psychosis, somebody who could be violent. They’re falling 100% for a stereotype that is untrue. A couple of months ago, this very podcast, Inside Schizophrenia, did a topic on serial killers and schizophrenia. And we learned that the original stereotype was that schizophrenics were, well, frankly, docile and stupid. That was the belief, that they couldn’t achieve anything. They couldn’t do anything, but they weren’t dangerous. They were basically a lump of clay. So somehow we managed to go from a quote unquote, stupid lump of clay all the way to sophisticated killer, serial killer, within just a few short decades. It’s a very interesting podcast, and I recommend that you listen to it.
Rachel Star Withers: And this isn’t just about general people in the medical industry, but mental health professionals have shown to have a tendency to view people with serious mental illnesses more negatively than positively, characterizing them as manipulative, lacking in willpower, disturbing, ineffective and difficult to communicate with. They have found that psychiatrists many times have similar concerns about medications, and one of the studies indicated that many of the psychiatrists were reluctant to say that they would use antipsychotics themselves. Gabe, that’s very telling to me. If you ask a doctor, well, would you use this medication that you’re prescribing to your patients? Oh God, no. I’d be like, okay, wait, what? What does that mean? Like due to the side effects? Due to you don’t think it will work? I expect when a doctor prescribes me a medication, it’s the exact same medication that they would put their mom on. That they would give to their child that they themselves would take. I don’t want them to give me the medication. Then be like, oh yeah, but I would never take it. Why? Why wouldn’t you? What would you take?
Gabe Howard: And of course, if they wouldn’t, you’d want to know the reason. This is what doctors are for. But if you talk to the doctors, it gets pushed aside. It gets it gets slugged off. It’s don’t, don’t worry about it. Just do what you’re told.
Rachel Star Withers: And let’s rewind back for a second, Gabe, because we talked about the idea that a professional doesn’t feel confident that they can accurately treat you, which I do appreciate. You know, if you come in with a disorder or whatnot and they’re like, you know, I’ve never helped anyone with this disorder. I don’t feel confident in my ability to treat you. They did a study of over 365 medical and nursing students, they were all ages 18 to 24 years old, currently in school. And they found that testing their general knowledge of schizophrenia that many of them still had discriminatory attitudes about recovery, about violence and dangerousness and even social management of people with schizophrenia. However, the students were knowledgeable about the nature of schizophrenia, even though they themselves thought that they weren’t. In other words, they had all of the answers. They were qualified. They knew the answers, and yet they still doubted people with schizophrenia and they still doubted themselves being able to treat someone like that. That’s always been the issue with me. When I go to therapists, when someone does turn me down for having schizophrenia and when someone says I’m not qualified to treat that, it’s kind of like, well, wait, didn’t you go? Didn’t you go to school? Did they not? Was the schizophrenia class like an elective? What does that mean? Like, I’m always confused by that because I feel like that’s. Isn’t that what that degree on your wall means?
Gabe Howard: If that’s not what the degree on the wall means, where is the push to change it? I recognize that general practitioners should not be treating cancer and that’s why we have oncology. If we have realized that general mental health professionals or psychiatrists should not be treating schizophrenia because they do not feel qualified, fine. Where is the schizophrenia specialty? Who do you look for? We are told over and over again. Rachel lives with schizophrenia. She needs a psychiatrist. She needs a psychologist. She needs a therapist. She needs mental health professionals. Yet we see on the website, before Rachel’s even made an appointment, they will not treat her. Which begs the question, Rachel, who do you call?
Rachel Star Withers: What happens, you know, if people with schizophrenia are reaching out for help and we’re repeatedly refused or we’re referred to people who we can’t afford because many times they refer you upwards, meaning they refer you to a psychiatrist and whatnot who is far more expensive than a therapist and you just flat out can’t afford that person. Where do we end up? Many of us, we end up finally with someone who can’t turn us away. And when I looked back at all of my therapists, they’ve all been people who couldn’t tell me no. My first ones were college. The I went to the school guidance counselors there and they have like, you know, the person that you go and you talk to. And two of them were amazing. Two of them at two different colleges were some of the best counselors I ever had.
Rachel Star Withers: And then the place that I was at for many years that I loved a lot, it was a mental health center and it was backed by a church, so it was state and church funded, and the majority of the people it treated were substance abuse with the opioid epidemic. And then I looked at the current place I’m going, who has a lot of government funding also, I’m like, wait a minute, all of the places where I have these counselors, they’ve all accepted me wonderfully, probably because they couldn’t say no. And part of it sad. The other thing, I also find it amazing because I can tell you throughout all of my treatment, some of the best treatment I have gotten has been from counselors because they have been the ones to help me with the day-to-day life. The counselor I have right now, when I have my first meeting with her, I flat out said, you know, yeah. And I don’t know if you noticed I do have schizophrenia. I hope that’s okay. And she goes, oh, well, I was excited. I never gotten to work with someone with schizophrenia before. I’m pretty excited about this and I love that because that’s usually not the reaction I get. That’s usually not the Oh, this will be fun. It’s oh, dear Lord, I can’t handle this. And she said the opposite. She flat out admitted she’d never worked with someone with schizophrenia, but she was excited to finally have that opportunity. And I guarantee you, Gabe, if you were to interview her, she would be like, Man, Rachel is so boring. I was expecting some great hallucinations and stuff. But it’s like, Rachel needs help with day-to-day activities.
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Rachel Star Withers: It’s just it’s not interesting. Rachel’s issues with making it to her boxing class on time and socializing, these are these are not fun horror movie tropes. But that’s what’s happening. So many of us end up getting help from different government or even religious type funded places, a lot of homelessness programs, because as people with schizophrenia, unfortunately, many of us do wind up without houses, without homes. And sometimes that’s what it takes to finally be able to get help and to be part of certain programs.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, you mentioned government or religious funded mental health centers, and you’ve mentioned homelessness programs. You’ve mentioned places that can’t turn you away. And I’m glad that they’re out there. I’m glad that they can’t turn you away and have to provide care. But it’s not really an empowering statement, is it? That you don’t get to choose. You just have to land wherever they will take care of you. But unfortunately, there’s sort of an elephant in the room when we talk about people who have to treat you that can’t turn you away. State psychiatric hospitals, jails and prisons and really more jails and prisons who have become the de facto asylums since the closure of the asylums in the 80s. There they are providing treatment for people with schizophrenia. But again, you’re incarcerated at this point. You’re committed, you’re held against your will. This is arguably when things have gone the worst. What information do you have about that?
Rachel Star Withers: State psychiatric hospitals do still exist. And for instance, if I’m having a psychotic episode and my parents call the police to come and have me committed, hopefully what happens is I’m able to go and get a bed at a psychiatric hospital. However, if there aren’t any beds, multiple US states have the person then wait in either the local jail or prison system until a bed is available. And since 2006, at least 13 people have died in Mississippi County jails awaiting mental illness or substance abuse treatment. So, these are people they didn’t cause a crime. They’re just there waiting for a spot to open up. Nine of the 13 killed themselves. And you think about, yeah, somebody having somebody feeling suicidal and people trying to get them help and instead of giving them to a hospital, they’re placed in a cell. And they’re already suicidal. And then now no one’s watching them. Unfortunately, in many cases, because the jails aren’t exactly bursting with employees and people who are able to monitor you 24/7. And it’s I want to say it’s sad, obviously, but it’s beyond that, Gabe. You know, the idea that you treat someone who is looking and needing help like they have committed a crime, I mean, if anything, it makes me not want to reach out for help. If I’m scared that you’re going to treat me the same as if I had just tried to murder someone and you already think I’m dangerous. We’ve already established that the stigma around schizophrenia is already that I’m dangerous. And now. Now you’re locking me in a cell. And I haven’t done anything.
Gabe Howard: This is a real reality for people who live with schizophrenia and unfortunately, because it is rare, a lot of times the stigma makes people say, oh, well, they’re paranoid, they’re making this up, they’re lying. And unfortunately, this allows the problem to persist and arguably get bigger.
Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing stigma in the medical community towards people living with schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: Throughout my life. I have got to meet some incredible people, here through the podcast, through just different organizations that I’ve worked with. And one of them you wouldn’t expect me to meet a lot of cool people at has been my boxing class. And, I’m big into my martial arts and I go to my boxing class three nights a week. There is a wonderful person there named Desire’. And the thing that attracted me to her right away was that when we started talking, she has done social work for with the homeless, for children in need, for all these different groups. And I flat out was like, hey, I have schizophrenia and we start talking about it. She would share stories with me of people with severe mental disorders of all ages that she came across. She would light up when she told me these stories, she was so passionate, Gabe. And that just attracted me to her. To have somebody who is passionate about helping families who are suffering in many, many ways with severe mental illness, that that was incredible to me. The people who work in social work, they’re not pulling in the millions of dollars that this isn’t, you know, the psychiatrist level of money. Like you understand, these people to me are some of the realest heroes there are. And that is why I was excited to have her on this show.
Gabe Howard: Well, Rachel, I’m excited to hear this interview. Let’s go ahead and roll it now.
Rachel Star Withers: I’m excited today to be talking with Desire’ Brown, who is a counselor in mental health. Thank you so much for joining us, Desire’.
Desire’ Brown: Thank you for having me.
Rachel Star Withers: And I have to tell our listeners, Desire’ is a friend of mine from boxing class, so she’s super tough.
Desire’ Brown: Oh, thank you. I tried.
Rachel Star Withers: [Laughter] So right off the bat, what attracted you to working in mental health?
Desire’ Brown: My desire to work in mental health was being able to help people. I believe if I can help one person a day, I have done something great. Learning different diagnoses. Learning how to assist people in mental health has drawn me to it. I have been able to help people in all different populations from homeless, from inpatient to outpatient, from children all the way to adults. I love what I do.
Rachel Star Withers: You’ve worked with a lot of underprivileged populations like the homeless and children in need. People who’ve went through traumatic situations.
Desire’ Brown: Yes.
Rachel Star Withers: Why have you chosen to help these different communities of people?
Desire’ Brown: I don’t believe a lot of them have the resources that they need. I think a lot of people that’s in the profession that I’m in are not willing to help them and assist them. So, to be a service to them, to provide them with a place to take a shower or to be able to give them food or to be able just to talk, to have a conversation. To me, that’s what I was called to do. So, that’s what I love to do. And I think being able to just help them with the most simplest thing in life is my reward for helping with the homeless population, mental health, population in general.
Rachel Star Withers: How have you seen schizophrenia affect these different populations?
Desire’ Brown: It’s a great question, Rachel. I have it ruin families. I have seen people be separated from their original self. I have seen people deny their diagnosis. I have seen people in many manic episodes where somebody tried to jump through a roof, run in front of a car. I see it where their family lose hope and they just by themselves. It’s a real hard disease to manage sometimes. It’s a hard one to keep family life if you don’t have a good family support that can be able to help you navigate schizophrenia. I have seen it destroyed kids where they don’t want to admit that they have that diagnosis. I have seen it in all areas and all walks of life.
Rachel Star Withers: And I would think with kids in these situations, it’s scary to have a serious mental disorder in any situation, but
Desire’ Brown: Absolutely.
Rachel Star Withers: Especially a child who might be homeless or who’s been taken away from their parents or who’s in
Desire’ Brown: Yes.
Rachel Star Withers: The foster care system.
Desire’ Brown: Yes, because they just feel lonely. Like they feel like the world just give up on them and it’s not something you choose to have. You know, unfortunately. And it does. It sucks. It makes them feel like sometimes people don’t care. And it’s something to fight every day and to be able to survive in society. It’s a fight. It’s a fight. And it’s hard.
Rachel Star Withers: When people in these situations seek help, I mean, where does mental health even fall on what to do? Because, I mean, if someone is they’re homeless, they’re hungry, like there’s so many other needs, I would think that would come before a
Desire’ Brown: Absolutely.
Rachel Star Withers: Mental health.
Desire’ Brown: Absolutely. Because if I’m homeless, I’m trying to think about where I’m eating next day or where I’m to sleep or if I’m going to get underneath a rock or and then there’s another sad part of it is, too, is not that many places that can help. Sometimes the resources is not available to them if they’re not getting a check every month or if they don’t have Medicaid or Medicare. Uh, it’s just not a lot of help sometimes out there. So, you have to fight to find different resources to be able to help. Personally, if I was homeless, I’d be thinking about, you know, where I’m asleep and how I’m gonna eat every day. I wouldn’t be thinking about my mental health. But it is sad because so many of them have mental health and don’t even know they have it, or so many of them deal with so many other things that’s in the world. I’m dealing with bulls on me every day. I don’t think about going to the hospital and getting what I need or getting, um, other resources there to help me. I’ll focus on eating and shelter.
Rachel Star Withers: What’s one of the most important things that you’ve learned through this work?
Desire’ Brown: To treat people as people. That’s the most important thing I have learned. I don’t care what your diagnosis is. I don’t care what your statistic is. I don’t care if you’re black, blue, brown or orange. Treating people like there are people in a human being.
Rachel Star Withers: What do you think could be done to assist people with schizophrenia to get help sooner?
Desire’ Brown: One, I think doctors and hospitals have to do a better job of reaching out. I think within South Carolina and North Carolina, I think it would be good if we were just to have doctors and nurses on the street to do screening for people in the homeless population. I think that would help. With kids, I think providing them with resources and helps and groups that be able to help them navigate schizophrenia would be awesome. So, they don’t feel different or feel like nobody else is fighting this disease for them. We got to do a better job at not only going out there to reach them, to provide resources for them having an outcome, as in places for them to live at, you know, going into the different shelters to and being able to help. We just let them sometimes fall through the cracks. And that’s the sad part. They don’t get the help they need because they don’t have Medicaid. Like, who cares if you don’t have Medicaid? But if I know something that you need, I could be able to help and say, hey, you know what? I’m going to get you something to eat. Let’s go to the hospital. Let’s do screening. Let’s see what’s going on. Let doctors and nurses be able to follow up. You know, I think that be the front to it. And I think also learning a lot of natural things that help with schizophrenia as well, a lot of utilizing different coping skills, being able to form groups and being able to engage in ADLs and just being able to talk about it too. I think a lot of people don’t talk about it or discuss it.
Rachel Star Withers: There’s also the problem that many mental health professionals do not want to. They don’t want to work with homeless.
Desire’ Brown: Yes, True.
Rachel Star Withers: They don’t want to help the lowest rung of society.
Desire’ Brown: It is actually true.
Rachel Star Withers: What? What can be done about that?
Desire’ Brown: Well, I well, honestly, I think those people really, honestly don’t need jobs because I think that’s the hard part for me, because so many people need help and so many people who are doctors and nurses and therapists and psychiatrists, they don’t want to work with them all because of their persona of how they look or what they need. You have to get a lot more people in the field that’s willing to care and do the work. Psychiatrists and doctors in different populations too, when you first get your degree, those should be the first people. You should want to help those.
Rachel Star Withers: Do you think that’s a type of stigma that many of the mental health professionals have towards people with serious mental disorders?
Desire’ Brown: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because either they don’t want to or they’re not going to. And they rather go to places and work in the office or places like the hospital. Or, you know, a lot of them don’t even want to work for nonprofit organizations to be able to assist people with mental health diagnoses. You have to be a need to want to help.
Rachel Star Withers: Do you think that more classes that they would have to take might break some of that stigma if they could learn about it? Or no, you think it’s just ingrained in them? What can we do about the stigma that they have?
Desire’ Brown: Rachel, I think sometimes it’s ingrained in them, but I think that would be awesome. I think we’d be a lot of classes. You know, I think the media getting involved, being able to shine lights on different people. Because sometimes you don’t see things until it’s really, really bad. But you have people that in the homeless population that really cry out for help. You know? So, it would be a good thing to be social media, good podcasts such as yours is interviewing different people to get things out there as well. Newspaper articles is well.
Rachel Star Withers: Why do you think that some professionals avoid treating those with schizophrenia?
Desire’ Brown: A lot of them avoid it because they just don’t want to. A lot of them avoid it because they don’t understand it or don’t want to understand it. Because, nowadays you can go anywhere and work, and with schizophrenia and a lot of mental health population they don’t want those types of jobs. Also, a lot of those jobs don’t pay a lot of money. And so, they go other places and work where they can make more money. Their job is less demanding. Because I believe when you work with schizophrenia, you have to be invested and you have to be invested on all levels because I want to be able to help you. I want to be able to help your family. I want you to fit into society just as everybody else. Because you got a diagnosis does not mean anything. Some people are not willing to go the extra mile to help and assist.
Rachel Star Withers: A lot of these populations, when people think of them, they imagine a person on the street with like a little a little cup or they, you know, they imagine like the kid with the ratty, the ratty clothes, like wandering the street. But
Desire’ Brown: Mm-hmm.
Rachel Star Withers: A lot of a lot of these people have access to cell phones now. And they you’re scraping a by with the bare minimum.
Desire’ Brown: Mm-hmm.
Rachel Star Withers: One off the things I love that you do is that you find those people via TikTok and you do your TikTok discussions?
Desire’ Brown: Yes.
Rachel Star Withers: Where you go live and you talk to different people?
Desire’ Brown: Mm-hmm.
Rachel Star Withers: Can you tell us about that finding and what people feel open to share like?
Desire’ Brown: That is, uh. That is so much fun. I love doing that. But what I do is, like each day when I do TikTok live, I have a different conversation. One conversation may be checking in on your mental health battery today. Or let’s talk about past trauma, different things of that nature. So sometimes we’re just on there talking, listening to music. You get different people to log in and they share their life story with you. On the air with plenty of people watching, plenty of views. But it’s because I think I make a safe place for them because I’m an open book myself. I would talk to a fish if I can. I love to talk, but. Being able to have a listening ear. Being able to have a non-judgmental zone to make people feel like there are people and that you are listening.
Desire’ Brown: I think that’s one of the greatest gifts you can ever give somebody, because people sometimes may never remember your name, but they always remember how you made them feel. And that’s just something that I love doing and I love hearing people be able to share their stories because your story can help somebody else. Or sometimes people don’t know how you got through some of the trials and tribulations you had to go to. So just being a listening ear, being able to help. Being able to provide resources if I have them. Being able to just be a friend in general.
Rachel Star Withers: The people that respond to your different TikTok lives, are they the type of people who are already going to a psychiatrist, see a therapist weekly? What type of people are they?
Desire’ Brown: Actually, it’s all the above, Rachel. Honestly, I have some people who already have a therapist or they seen a therapist, but sometimes they not just as comfortable yet to share their story. I have some people that gets on the air, and nobody ever heard that story before. From the vibe and the conversation, they just begin just talking. It just something that they want to get off their chest. So, they look to use like different coping skills or being able to have somebody just to talk to and just be a listener or, they may be a bad day and they just want to talk. So, it’d be it’d be all sorts of people from all different walks of life. But it’s just the open feel just to be able to discuss and make it a safe place for them to be able to discuss what’s going on.
Rachel Star Withers: I think anyone who works in mental health is amazing, but especially when you’re helping the people that aren’t as glamorous. When you’re doing stuff quietly, like on TikTok. When you’re helping people who are homeless, when you’re helping kids that have been in traumatic situations. Anyone who does that, hands down is a hero. And thank you so much, Desire’, for doing this for so many people with schizophrenia who are in these situations.
Desire’ Brown: Thank you for having me. And I love it. Like I said, it’s something that I’m probably going to be doing the rest of my life. And I get my reward at the end. To see people smile, to see people being able to just communicate. That’s my reward. That’s where my heart smiles. So, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.
Rachel Star Withers: How can our listeners learn more about you or find out about your TikTok’s?
Desire’ Brown: They can follow me on all social media. On TikTok, Instagram. My name is selfmad3_qu33n. And they want to follow me on Facebook. They can follow me at Lillian Brown. That’s my Facebook. And I’ll be working. I’ll be ready to listening and ready to help. I would say to everybody that’s listening with schizophrenia and mental health, continue to fight, continue to be a voice and continue to sustain your place in this thing called life.
Rachel Star Withers: That’s amazing. Thank you so much for speaking with us today, Desire’.
Desire’ Brown: Thank you.
Gabe Howard: Well, Rachel, that is a great interview. I know I always say that, but it’s always true. I really liked what she said about simple ways to connect. How did that resonate with you?
Rachel Star Withers: I love it because so much of what we’ve been talking about, this stigma is when someone with schizophrenia is reaching out for help, the professional kind of freaks out. It’s like, well, I don’t know. I can’t do all this stuff. I can’t I can’t get you into the hospital right away. I can’t prescribe medicine, right. You know, they automatically think of the disasters, you know, what could happen being the worst possible thing. And they don’t even think about there. There’s so many small ways that I can help this person. And I. I love that she does the TikTok’s. I love that. It’s just a way for her to connect with everyday people. Whether you have a serious mental disorder or you’re struggling with something else. She’s not saying she can get you into the hospital. She’s not saying that she can help you with your medication. She’s saying, I’m listening. And that’s what I think we need more of. We need more therapists, counselors, psychologists who are willing to say, Yeah, I’m listening. I might not be able to help you with every part of your schizophrenia because spoiler alert, no one can. But I am willing to help you with what I can. I am willing to help you with what I do feel comfortable. That’s what’s important is too often we focus on what we are uncomfortable with, completely ignoring all of the other stuff that we are comfortable with that, hey, I can absolutely help you with coping mechanisms for working at your part time job, for coping mechanisms with your new living arrangements, for helping you learn to save money. All of these different things.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, we spent a lot of time on what’s broken, what’s the solution? Is there a fix in sight?
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, because this has been noticed and there are people working to change this and it starts early. It’s pretty hard to change people who’ve been working in an industry for 20 years, to change their views. But if you make it into the colleges, even the high schools and start there building empathy towards people with mental disorders, that’s what’s important. If you’re someone in medical school and you’re looking towards working with a certain population, a great thing to do is start studying what type of medications are they on and what are the side effects. So, if you’re going to be working with people with schizophrenia, find out, okay, what type of medications are they on? Are they usually put on antipsychotics? Are they usually put on antidepressants? Do they just go on one or many times, are they on multiple? What are the side effects? What does this person need help with? Not the big things, the hallucinations, delusions. What are the little aspects of their life that they’re struggling with? Special trainings, workshops can help professionals understand those small little nuances of the disorder.
Rachel Star Withers: People who are already professionals working in different industries, promoting that patients with severe mental disorders actually connect with students and doctors so that they have time to meet someone in person. Unfortunately, with different medical degrees, sometimes the only chance that they get to meet with someone with a severe mental disorder is in the emergency room when that person is in crisis. That’s what they think schizophrenia is. They think it’s that crisis mode 24/7. And yeah, that that can be scary. You could think, well, I can’t handle that alone. I can’t handle just that being on all me. But you’re seeing a glimpse of that person. You’re not seeing the recovery stages, the trying to live a normal life stages and getting to have people who get to talk honestly, Gabe, to people like you and me who aren’t in the midst of a crisis helps them be like, oh, okay, well, this, Rachel is not that messed up. She’s not I don’t feel she’s going to, like, attack me right away. She’s talking about her coworkers. This is very boring in fact. Like that helps them see, hey, people with schizophrenia are just people. If you work in any type of clinic or organization, a great thing to do is good supervision and letting your workers know they’re not alone.
Rachel Star Withers: Because if I feel as a therapist that I also have the other therapist across the hallway here also knows about schizophrenia. I can kind of go to her when I feel out of place and kind of making it more of a network, which is something we’re always pushing here on the show, is building your support network, both with your friends and family, but also professionally. Having a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counselor that can help you with day to day living skills. All of that is important. Stigma around the diagnosis of schizophrenia is a constant issue that many people with schizophrenia and their loved ones face at home, at work, in their communities, and unfortunately, even when seeking medical help. To all the amazing listeners to our podcast, just being willing to listen to information about schizophrenia is helping break stigma. A special thank you to all of our listeners in the medical community and the students considering working in mental health. We appreciate you and hope that you can inspire others into a career in the mental health field. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline Media podcast. Please like, share, subscribe and rate our podcast and we’ll see you next time here on Inside Schizophrenia a Healthline Media Podcast.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Schizophrenia, a podcast from Psych Central and Healthline Media. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/is or on your favorite podcast player. Your host, Rachel Star Withers, can be found online at RachelStarLive.com. Co-host Gabe Howard can be found online at gabehoward.com. Thank you and we’ll see you next time.