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A Beautiful Mind: My Family’s Story

Contending with mental illness is a traumatic experience, especially when it’s within your own family. I’ll never forget an alarming phone call from my mother while I was at college. She informed me that my 15-year-old brother, Matthew, was arrested by police at our family’s home due to a violent altercation with another family member. Apparently, Matthew knew an intervention was in order as he complied with the police, “Take me in. I need help.” Within a few days, we were alerted that our brother was diagnosed as having experienced an acute episode of paranoid schizophrenia. While we had little understanding of what this meant, it did offer some explanation for the odd behaviors Matthew was exhibiting – his growing habit of missing school and socially isolating himself, even from family and close friends.

Over the next nine months, Matthew was under psychiatric care at what was then known as Denver General Hospital. It was a traumatic experience for our family marked by sadness and confusion. I distinctly remember my father and mother asking questions like, “What did we do wrong? … What does this mean for our son’s future?”

Our family gradually took steps to learn about mental illness. A pivotal moment came after my parents agreed to participate in family therapy at Servicios de La Raza in North Denver. It must have been a unique moment for the clinician who worked with us when Matthew’s parents and seven siblings came to the appointment. To this day, one of my sisters recalls the profound impact of that experience, remembering how the therapist intervened in our malaise, engaged with and lovingly challenged us, and taught us the importance of displaying familial care and affection to each other. We practiced giving hugs and expressing affirming words of appreciation to one another. Family is everything. Given society’s way of extolling raw individualism at that time, we needed this reminder and lesson.

A Beautiful Mind

When I stepped into the movie theater, I thought the drama on the screen would be a tale about espionage and international conflict. Instead, I was captivated by the true-life story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician and Nobel laureate in economics, who began struggling with mental illness in his early 30s. The movie convincingly portrayed Nash’s psychological issues – his delusional thinking, hallucinations, paranoia, increasing anti-social behavior, and eventual hearing of voices – that led to his being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Based on the close conversations I had with my brother, the film mirrored what I knew to be his reality. I left the theater absolutely stunned. “A Beautiful Mind,” directed by Ron Howard, helped to educate the public about mental illness in a profound way.

A Continuing Journey

Today, in large part due to our faith and strong family support, Matthew enjoys a meaningful and productive life. He possesses a driver’s license, lives on his own in proximity to family, and maintains employment. On and off he experiences challenges with extended periods of stress and adjustments in his medication, but overall, he is doing well.

Meanwhile, a new generation of family members are contending with their own mental health challenges. In writing this blog post, I have come to realize that today the importance of one’s mental health is more commonly understood. This is true for my children, their friends, and several of my nieces and nephews. A number have, in fact, benefitted from therapy for various reasons: questions about identity and purpose, social media induced anxiety, isolation related to the pandemic, eating disorders, and the like. My siblings have also shared with me the challenges they’ve experienced as parents searching for therapists that are affordable, match their kid’s needs, and who have openings in their schedule.

It is startling to consider that “at least half of the population will be affected by a mental health issue at some point in their lives.” Thankfully, mental health is becoming more understood, and more youth and parents are finding therapy to be helpful. I’m grateful for my family’s journey, including all the support we’ve received and the lessons we’ve learned.


PBS Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Servicios de la Raza

A Beautiful Mind