The stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness affects adults, teenagers and children alike. Please Stop Smiling by Richard Carlson, Jr. is a story geared toward children who have no idea when a loved one is affected by a mental illness.
Jose's brother Alejandro had a mental illness. Jose's friend Sebastian makes fun of Alejandro and laughs at him and that makes Jose angry. Jose's dad sees his distress and asks him what is wrong. "What's so funny about Alejandro" he asks his dad. With a tight-lipped grimace his dad replies, "Nothing".
Paranoid Schizophrenia had only just started to affect Alejandro when he was 20 years old and attending school to become a veterinarian. He talked to himself. He laughed inappropriately. He heard voices an
d was seeing things. These things made him feel afraid and angry at times. He scared Jose.
Alejandro's parents were worried because he could no longer attend school. They finally brought him to a psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Alejandro did not believe he had this disease but told the doctor he did believe it. In his head though, he believed his mind controlled the world and that he could control other people's minds and make them do certain things. The voices in his head told him things he didn't like to hear which made him feel confused and angry. Because he was not truthful to the doctor, the doctor thought he was getting better. If only he had known to be honest with his doctor, recovery would have come sooner. It was until many years later that he accepted his diagnosis and embraced the help he needed.
Jose once again told his dad about Sebastian teasing him about Alejandro. They were sitting with Alejandro who was laughing and smiling to himself, lost in his own world. He didn't even look over to Jose and his dad as they talked about Jose being teased! Didn't Alejandro even care? "Sebastian said mean things!" "About Alejandro!" Finally, Alejandro stopped smiling and looked over at Jose.
The doorbell rang and they walked to the door and saw Sebastion who was quite upset and wanted help because he had discovered a small bird stuck in a piece of cactus. They all watched as Alejandro managed, with gentleness and great care to free the bird from its agony. They were all happy to have helped the bird, but Sebastian was the most grateful. "Thanks" he said to Alejandro and invited him to play with him and Jose. Sebastian had seen Alejandro being a hero, and Jose hoped he would accept his brother from now on.
Alejandro eventually recovered many years later, although he wasn't cured, he felt a lot better. He took his medication and saw his doctor every few months to stay well. Jose and his family felt better too.
Alejandro was able to go back to veterinarian school. Jose was so impressed seeing his brother's recovery, he decided to become a psychiatrist, to help people like his brother. And Sebastian learned that people with mental illness can be heroes.
The author of this children's book, Richard Carlson, has paranoid schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. His mission is to educate youngsters about this widely misunderstood and wrongfully feared illness. His path to recovery has been long and arduous and yet he perseveres. Writing books, blog posts and his memoirs has been instrumental in his recovery.
People with mental illness are struggling. Their loved ones are struggling. Confusion is common. Help is available but often difficult to find. Truth is the key to gaining understanding and compassion. Be honest with yourself, your children, those who have relationships with people suffering from mental illness and most of all to those living with mental illness.
There is hope.
Written by: Jackie Aumann