The clubs have names like I Am One and Brave Women of Palm Beach County, and to look at their elegant members, you’d think they were ladies of leisure on their way to a fashion show or an art gallery.
Instead, they are the heartbroken survivors of beloved children and siblings whose extreme mental illnesses ultimately killed them, and they are on their way to any and every microphone they can find. They have learned the hard way that silence kills, and they are done suffering in silence.
At age 85, Rita Thrasher is not worried about people who think that mental illness is something about which to be ashamed. She and “a small group of thoughtful, committed” mothers and sisters are working to comfort afflicted families, and afflict federal, state, and local governments that are stuck in the 80s — the 1880s — in their approaches to mental illness.
By the time Mrs. Thrasher’s daughter Valerie ran away from home at age 18, she had been suffering for seven years from the bipolar disorder than would lead her to a lonely death at age 42.
Then and now, there was precious little meaningful help for people like Valerie. Mood disorders don’t show up on X-rays, but their symptoms cause heartache and chaos in a young person’s world. These conditions can be managed effectively, and people with mental illnesses can lead happy, productive lives.
But for every family that can find, and afford, the necessary care, there are tens of thousands who live in communities where competent professional help does not exist, or is unaffordable to all but the very rich.
The kids self-medicate with infinite varieties of self-harm as their families try desperately to protect them. But parental love is no substitute for appropriate medical care. The kids end up in jail. They end up dead. Some of their loved ones will follow them off the cliff. Others, like the Brave Women of Palm Beach County, will take their cue from Mrs. Thrasher. “I am doing this work today because I want it in the curriculum of life,” she told the Sun-Sentinel’s Brooke Baitinger.
From her mouth to God’s ear, and to the ears of every Florida health care policymaker.