Mental illness support group offered
September 21, 2003
Life gets lonely when you have no one to talk to who understands your problems.
No one knows that better than Jenny Lorch. When her 28-year-old daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia, she didn’t have anyone to talk to who knew about mental illness. She struggled through the first year of her daughter’s illness, feeling confused, stressed and overwhelmed, but a support group she started last winter changed the way she saw her situation.
Lorch want to make that catharsis available to anyone struggling in the wake of a friend or family member’s mental illness.
“Support groups really work,” Lorch said. “Even if it’s a quilting club where people can get together and talk. All kinds of people use support groups to help them get through their daily lives.”
When her daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia two years ago, Lorch was new to Steamboat.
“We didn’t know anything (about mental illness), and we didn’t know where to turn,” Lorch said. “(In that situation) all you want is for someone to tell you that you are normal. That you are not alone.”
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When she realized there was no support group for parents in her situation, she decided to start one.
She approached Tom Gangle at Steamboat Mental Health, who gave her the use of a conference room and helped to spread the word.
The meeting started small — people coming in one at a time. The group never got bigger than 10 people, she said, but even that small number of members was able to help each other.
They invited mental illness specialists to visit the group and give lectures, and they shared their own experiences.
“I think the first thing I learned was that (my daughter) can get better,” Lorch said. “This is not the end of the world.”
Through reading on the Internet and talking to people in the support group, Lorch started to understand mental illness.
“Women get the disease (schizophrenia) in their early 20s,” she said. “Men can be diagnosed earlier — in their late teens and early 20s.
“There was some kind of indications that she had a mental illness as I look back on it.”
Lorch’s daughter was hospitalized in Missouri after a psychotic episode where she was “talking strange things,” Lorch said. “They thought she was a danger to herself.”
Lorch and her husband brought their daughter to Colorado to help her heal.
“I read something that said it takes a year to recuperate from a psychotic episode,” Lorch said. Her daughter is now healing and recently was able to take a job.
“I realize now that mental illness is biological. It could happen to anyone. It’s much more common than you think,” she said. “It has to do with the chemistry of your brain. Something stops working.”
The experience was stressful for everyone in the Lorch family. They had to learn patience, she said. “I learned it takes time (to recover). It’s not like a cold or a broken leg.”
Parents of mentally ill children came to last winter’s support group. So did people who were diagnosed themselves.
“When the people came that had mental illnesses, we didn’t send them away,” she said. “It was helpful to everybody. We learned how both sides suffer.”
Lorch’s support group stopped meeting for the summer, but she has plans to start again this week. Each week, the group will bring in speakers or listen to tapes, followed by discussion.
This Wednesday, a speaker will talk to the group about stress management. Next month, Dr. Richard Berkley will talk about new medications to treat mental illness.
For more information, call 870-8898 or e-mail cjlorch@ springsips.com
— To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
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