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Health, Mind & Body - Mental Health Parenting & Families - Parenting

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Behind the Wall: The True Story of Mental Illness as Told by Parents

ISBN: 9781634132046
Author: Mary Widdifield and Elin Widdifield MA
Published: 4/7/2015

Behind the Wall: The True Story of Mental Illness as Told by Parents provides a shared voice for millions of people who advocate for a child or loved one living with mental illness fosters understanding for society at-large and delivers an ultimately hopeful read.

The seven true stories in this book told by nine parents were selected from interviews conducted by sisters Mary and Elin Widdifield and interwoven with one sister's own experiences. Told with remarkable candor these stories offer more insight than any single story or academic analysis.

When mental illness enters the national discussion it typically comes in the wake of a violent tragedy attracting temporary attention and further misunderstanding. Behind the Wall posits that the true story of mental illness can be told most accurately by the people in the trenches: the parents who watched it all unfold.

Mary Widdifield received her MA in English and creative writing from San Francisco State University where she received the Wilner Award for short fiction. Mary's fiction and essays have appeared in Transfer Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and Able Muse. Mary is a grant writer for nonprofits. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children.

Elin Widdifield received her MA in counseling psychology from Tufts University and completed an externship in family therapy at The Philadelphia Child Guidance Center. She has worked extensively with adolescents, families, young adults, and sexual assault survivors. Elin has documented oral histories, including life experiences of combat veterans. Elin resides in North Carolina where she is on the boards of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), and the UNC Center For Excellence in Community Mental Health. She is the mother of two sons.


''Told in the authentic voices of parents who have lived the experience of seeking help for their children and confronting mental illness, [this] collection promises to offer guidance and hope to parents who are just starting down the same path . . . One of my responsibilities within NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is monitoring and reviewing books in our field . . . Behind the Wall is unique and will help fill an important niche in meeting the ever-increasing demand for information about parenting children and adolescents with emotional disorders.'' --Bob Carolla, J.D., Director of Media Relations, NAMI

''It is one thing to learn about mental illness in the classroom. It is another to learn about it through the eyes of those who love someone suffering with it. Every doctor, lawyer, psychologist, therapist, every person in a 'helping' profession including paramedics and police during their career will encounter someone suffering with a serious mental illness. As with substance addiction, mental illness is misunderstood and misdiagnosed. It is shrouded in shame, isolation, and fear. Behind the Wall lifts the veil of secrecy to look at this devastating illness from those who know it best. Behind the Wall should be required reading for everyone entering or currently in the helping professions and recommended reading for those who simply want to understand an illness that touches us all.''--Alice Tanner, Addiction Consultant/Intervention Specialist Owner, Addiction Recovery Consulting Services

''This important book is a must-read for parents who are struggling with the vicissitudes of a beloved child's mental illness. It also provides a view on the family struggle that is essential for helping professionals who are trying to see the whole picture. It describes the experiences of five individual parents and two pairs of parents as they ride the roller coaster of feelings, chaotic experiences, and systemic disorganization that becomes the substance of their lives with a mentally ill child. Words like 'the new normal,' stigma, grief, denial, guilt, coping, revised expectations, and hope describe a process that can best be shared one parent to another. As one mother said, 'I wanted to reach out (to another parent coping with learning of her child's mental illness) and tell her 'I've been there, it's okay.''' In reading these powerful, sometimes raw, stories, one senses that it is never really okay, but there is support, knowledge, and understanding available as one learns to deal with illnesses often compounded by substance abuse and societal judgments. Applause for the parents who have broken down the wall of silence and shared their stories and for the authors who deftly wove them together with great skill and the empathy forged by their own life experiences.'' --Rev. Dr. Judith A. B. Lee, DMin, DSW, MSW, LCSW Professor Emerita University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Pastoral Counselor and Clinical Social Worker

''In this collection of starkly rendered accounts by parents of adult children living with mental illness, the reader is taken on a private journey through personal, often dark and difficult territory. For these parents, the simplest things in their adult child's life are often the most difficult; basic milestones that others take for granted are major achievements. These children do not navigate the path to adulthood in a straight and narrow line. And despite the obvious challenges, mothers and fathers show how to love and support their child while grief, frustration, and disappointment are sometimes the dominant emotional experiences. Parents make mistakes, have regrets, offer advice, and show there is hope. Most of all, they never give up on their children. Behind the Wall: The True Story of Mental Illness as Told by Parents is an important book to read for both mental health professionals and struggling families alike.''--Deborah Rich, MSW, LCSW

''This is an important work--not just for families, extended families, friends, teachers, neighbors, and skeptics, but for the professional community as well. As a child psychiatrist with over thirty years of experience, I listen to my patients' stories as they unfold, but too often find it difficult to know what really goes on behind the wall. I vividly remember sitting with a mother who held her eleven-year old son, who lives with bipolar, in her arms like a small child as he sucked on her arm and whimpered; she cried with helpless grief. I was dumbstruck. Neither my prescription pad nor my psychotherapeutic expertise was a match for this depth of despair.

Years later, an experience in my own family prompted me to join an online support group sponsored by There I heard the human stories behind the wall of mental illness. Behind the Wall, by Widdifield and Widdifield provides us with the same privileged access. Their sensitive handling of the interviewing and writing process and the bravery and candor of the families they interviewed allow us to understand the impact of mental illness as the families themselves do. What a gift.''--Ruth Noel, M.D. Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry Assistant Clinical Professor, University of California, San Francisco