Sunday, January 4, 2009


I'm sure most of you have heard the sad news of Jett Travolta death. He was only sixteen years old. It is suspected that he died from a head injury, due to a fall, which was triggered by a seizure. My heart goes out to Jett's family. Jett's parents, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, claim that their son suffered from Kawasaki Syndrome. However, most people who have met Jett say that he clearly suffered from Autism. John's brother, Joey, had been in many disagreements about Jett's treatment. Joey even produced a documentary that interviewed 65 kids with autism called, Normal People Scare Me. The point of the film was to educate others about autism. 

Jett's parents are followers of Scientology, a religion that believes mental illness is psychosomatic. That means those affected by any type of mental disorder are defective human beings and can only be treated through spiritual healing. If John and Kelly refused medical treatment for their son and denied that he suffered from autism (and this is only hypothetical), then this is very sad. I personally know how denial and lack of insight can trigger medical non-compliance. In my own family, there are members who do not fully believe that my brother suffers from schizophrenia, even though he was diagnosed. What I have concluded, though, is that these individuals are in deep denial about what is really going on. They do not want to admit that my brother has a real mental illness and don't support him taking medicine. I don't understand it because it took me a matter of days to understand what was really going on. I spoke with many people who have gone through the same thing and they told me that without medicine, recovery may never happen. For months, I didn't want to believe that my brother would most likely deal with schizophrenia for the rest of his life. For a sister, that is a very hard reality to accept. However, all of the success stories I read about helped me look toward the future. I believe that each day is one step closer to my brother's recovery.

A lot of people are speculating that Jett's death could have been prevented and maybe it could have. However, we weren't there and we don't know what happened. I do , however, have a huge problem with Scientology, because followers of this religion believe that mental illness makes an individual defective or weak. Ironically,  those who suffer from a mental disorder are actually courageous, inspiring and strong. I don't think people realize just what it takes to recover from a chronic illness. I will tell you that it is nothing short of miraculous. It is a personal journey that one makes in order to achieve recovery. Please visit my website to learn about this journey.

We need to embrace recovery and accept that mental illness will continue to affect our loved ones. When we talk about mental illness we are actually talking about physical illness. The brain is not separate from the rest of the body. It is an organ just like our stomach or our liver. What's more complicated is that our brains are controlled by chemical and electrical activity. When any of this activity is unbalanced, a disorder can occur. After observing the debilitating effects schizophrenia has had on my brother, I know one thing, I will never underestimate my mental health or take it for granted. 


  1. Amber, I have some thoughts on this subject that are not necessarily in conflict with yours, but just a different way of evaluating. Is it a question of denial or civil rights?
    As a mother, there can be no loss greater than that of one's child. My heart goes out to the Travolta's , and it is difficult to say if medication intervention would have saved his life. A co-worker of mine years ago died because she was a Jehovah Witness and refused a life saving blood transfusion. The question I ask myself is in a country where we fight to preserve and protect our feedoms, do the principles of freedom in thought and action extend to everyone, even those with whom we disagree?
    I am greatful for blogs like yours, so at least we can engage the conversation without anger or vindictiveness. Scientology is not the only entity that does not believe in medication for the mentally ill, for even a small minority in the medical community habor this belief. This was a shocking revelation when I was told this by a professional when my son first became ill. I have never encountered anyone personally who ascribed this for my son, nor has our support of his taking medications been questioned, but I am aware that this belief system exists. They have a right to their beliefs just as I have a right to mine as long as they do not try to infringe on mine.
    How does fighting stigma fit into this framework? The word "stigma" is derived from the archaic meaning a distinguishing mark cut or burned into the flesh of a slave or criminal. For our ill family members, it's a mark of reproach or disgrace perpetrated by lies and misconceptions. We are just as passionate about confronting lies and misconceptions as anyone else whose views are questioned. Opposing views to my own have a right to exist without my questioning them as long as they respect my freedoms. The main idea here is that our quest to free our ill family members from stigma is the most effective when it confronts overt attacks on the mentally ill through advertising, movies, TV, and social mythology, not by questioning the belief systems of others who do not challenge mine. It's similar to the ability of religions to co-exist in mutual respect while maintaining their individual philosophies which can be completely different.
    Thank you for your diligence in bringing topics to the forum for discussion and revelation.

  2. I agree with you that we should respect each others' human rights. Everyone has the right to believe anything they want but the same rights that protect us, also hurt us. As much as we have the right to think freely, we also have the right to judge one another in a very negative way. Prejudice is based on fear. We allow this emotion to think for us at times. It is a very powerful emotion, powerful enough to abuse or question the human rights of others. This is evident with the how African Americans were treated in history and how some feel that those with a mental illness should be locked up. I do believe, like you do, that if we start to reach the public, through movies, news, advertising, etc. then we may, one day, reduce stigma. It is possible. The reason world peace can't happen is because their are too many people concerned with their own beliefs. As much as I think religion plays a very positive role in providing morals and guidance for a group of individuals, it can also cause some people to act negatively towards others who do not believe in the same ideals. Anyway, I will stop rambling.

  3. I believe reducing stigma is possible also, but it is going to take a lot of work and possibly a campaign of national significance. The Special Olympics brought respect and admiration to the handicapped; similarly, we need something of this magnitude. btw: Your posters are wonderful. You present the face and image of mental illness in a poignant way. Is there a way to have your posters and your art have a tour that would take them to the major art galleries in the U.S. with perhaps the tour ending in Washington D.C. with a presentation to congress? I know this sounds like a lot, but as the Tao teaches a journey of a thousand miles starts beneath your feet.

  4. Amber,
    I was thinking that a project is time consuming and expensive, but applying for a grant might be possible. If this is something you might want to consider, I will look for grants. Actually, the state of New York does have humanities grants.

  5. It's funny that you mention that because I was just approached to write a grant for my cause. From the get go, I intended the exhibit to travel to galleries but I would like to shape a program/presentation for college students that would raise awareness. I would include my exhibit, posters, etc. in the presentation. I never thought about trying to reach congress but that might be more powerful. I think there is a need for a national campaign. With my experience in the field, I would love to develop a campaign that would reach millions. I appreciate your ideas and enthusiasm.

  6. Amber, I hope you don't think I am prying, but may I ask who offered you the grant? It might be possible for you to use the same proposal and apply for several grants with some modifications particular to each entity. Presenting to college students is a great idea, and should be welcomed by psychology depts and student body. Once your exhibit becomes known, you can contact your congressional representatives in New York and ask them to sponsor some type of recognition that includes your presenting to congress. If there is anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to ask. I can do online research or writing to assist you. I only request that any assistance I give be kept anonymous. Best of luck to you, and thank you on behalf of caregivers for the mentally ill.

  7. Sure, I was asked to sit on the board for the Saratoga County Citizens Committee for Mental Health. A woman there sent me a grant application because she thought my mission would prosper with a grant. I haven't even had a chance to read the application but I was planning to hold off for a bit until I figure out just what the grant will be used for. So you're idea to apply for several grants may be a good one. Do you have experience in this area? I will be asking for guidance from others as soon as I figure out what my needs are. In addition to a campaign for change, I would like to collect feedback from people who were moved by my exhibit (I already have a lot) I may have reason to approach congress in NY. May I ask what your relationship is with mental illness, if any? Thank you for reaching out to help. I might have to take you up on your offer:)

  8. I have written about Scientology on my blog, as I am a mental patient and their beliefs about psychiatry concern me. That said, I believe that the Travoltas had put aside their faith, to care for their son.

    He was taking Wellbuterin, an anti-seizure medication which can be used for other mental diagnoses. It is an awful tragedy for this family to lose their beloved son.