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Dad Writes Obituary on Mental Illness Stigma After Daughter, Katie Shoener, Dies by Suicide

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Katie Shoener was not bipolar, she had an illness called bipolar disorder – an important distinction her father, Edward Shoener, wants people to know. Katie Shoener was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2005 and died by suicide on August 3. She was 29 years old.

Her dad, a deacon, sat down to write his daughter’s obituary and help people understand mental illness:

So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness. People say that “she is bipolar” or “he is schizophrenic.” Over the coming days as you talk to people about this, please do not use that phrase. People who have cancer are not cancer, those with diabetes are not diabetes. Katie was not bipolar – she had an illness called bipolar disorder – Katie herself was a beautiful child of God. The way we talk about people and their illnesses affects the people themselves and how we treat the illness. In the case of mental illness there is so much fear, ignorance and hurtful attitudes that the people who suffer from mental illness needlessly suffer further.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults lives with a mental illness, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Given its prevalence, stigmatizing mental illness only hurts those affected by it.

“No one came up to me or Ruth and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ If she’d gotten in an accident they would have said kind things, but now everyone knew and no one looked at us, like it was a character flaw,” Shoener told The Washington Post in an interview. “We felt shamed, we felt like maybe we weren’t good parents. They didn’t know what to say. As a society we don’t know how to talk to each other about this. We don’t have a language for how to talk about mental illness.”

So Schoener addressed how to talk about his daughter’s mental illness and shared it in her obituary:

Our society does not provide the resources that are needed to adequately understand and treat mental illness. In Katie’s case, she had the best medical care available, she always took the cocktail of medicines that she was prescribed and she did her best to be healthy and manage this illness – and yet – that was not enough. Someday a cure will be found, but until then, we need to support and be compassionate to those with mental illness, every bit as much as we support those who suffer from cancer, heart disease or any other illness. Please know that Katie was a sweet, wonderful person that loved life, the people around her – and Jesus Christ.

You can read the full obituary here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

Image credit: Thinkstock

Originally published: August 17, 2016
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