Mom’s struggle, success with son’s schizophrenia

The column below originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers, including the Star News published in the Elk River, Rogers, Mn area.

Mom’s struggle, success with son’s schizophrenia

Mindy Greiling’s new book, “Fix What You Can,” is one of the most powerful, painful and, ultimately, valuable books I’ve ever read. It’s a sometimes sad, sometimes stunning description of her family’s efforts to help and cope with her son’s struggle with schizophrenia. It’s also the story of a suburban mom and, for 20 years, a Minnesota House member from Roseville. The book offers terrific advice to families and legislators.

Mindy & Jim Greiling (photo courtesy of Mindy Greiling

How would you feel if you received a phone call saying your child is in jail? Or missing? Or had a bad drug habit? Greiling, her husband, Roger, her daughter Angela and her son have gone through all of this, and much more. She writes, “My shoulders ached from the constant tension of worrying about him.” I sometimes had to put the book down because her agony is so intense. Greiling acknowledges, “We often struggle to know what to do next.”

However, Greiling concludes, “The secret to coping is to avoid helplessness.” She describes the enormous value of talking with, listening to and learning from other families with som

eone experiencing this disease. She recalls going “door to door” while campaigning for the Legislature and hearing people describe problems with their youngsters. But so many families were unaware that, as she recalls, “another family, just five houses down” also was struggling with mental illness issues.

Greiling urges families with a member experiencing mental illness to participate in free online classes and groups run by NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Visit NAMI online.

Greiling recognizes she’s benefited from great connections that many families don’t have. She worked with other legislators to get more attention and funds to help people suffering from schizophrenia. She acknowledges and wants to support low-income people and families of color who don’t have her advantages. Greiling told me: “I wanted to model advocacy for people who didn’t have connections. I hope others will share their stories with legislators.”

The Greiling Family (provided by Mindy Greiling)

She hopes Congress will change federal legislation so that it is easier for families to get information about what’s happening with their adult children. While respecting privacy, Greiling explained that part of the problem with this disease is that sometimes schizophrenics don’t think they need help. For example, medicine can reduce problems. But families need to know if their youngster is in fact taking the medicine.

She wants families and educators to know that “Early intervention and getting ahead of the game” can dramatically reduce problems. A 2019 national study of mental illness in Minnesota found: “People living with mental illness are more likely to encounter the criminal justice system, resulting in a large number of arrests and incarcerations. The overall annual cost of incarcerating people with serious mental illness in state prisons in Minnesota exceeds $230 million.” The study found that more than 430,000 Minnesota adults “experienced serious psychological distress in the past 12 months.” This was pre-pandemic. The report is found here.

Greiling is honest and hopeful. Her son is better now. He helped edit this book.

Minnesota offers more support that it did 20 years ago. She urges families and legislators to expand successful programs, to “build on what we know works.” A free video is available of Greiling talking with Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-MN about her family’s experiences.

She is willing, in fact eager, to talk with others about their and her experiences. You can contact her here.

Greiling told me: “My salvation was and is advocacy. Mental illness is everybody’s issue.” Available at traditional and online bookstores, “Fix What You Can” is a powerful revelation and a terrific resource.

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at Joe@centerforschoolchange.org or JoeNathan9249 on Twitter.