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Stigma, Stereotyping and Schizophrenia

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Friday, January 31 2009, a man was killed while walking along the pedestrian lane of route 287 in Boulder Colorado. Witnesses said he was well off of the Highway and not in within range of being hit by a car. Yet, a woman driver, allegedly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, swerved well off of the road and struck him, instantly killing him. His name was John Breaux. He was a simple man who always had a dark beard, warm smile and gentle and kind heart. Everyone knew him and liked him.

Whatever season of the year it was and no matter how cold and snowy or hot and dry, John could be seen working outside. He collected the shopping carts in the parking lots of supermarkets and stored them safely where they were meant to be so that they would not roll into parked cars and would be easily available to shoppers. He cleaned litter in the streets, picked up and collected cans and bottles of all types and varieties.

He was a frequent visitor to the recycling center where he desposited all the refuse left on the streets by passersby.

This unassuming man became so well known that he was recognized by the city of Louisville for his contributions. A photo exhibition of the city included him in its titled, "Three Faces of Louisville."

You might wonder why people are making such a fuss over a man doing his job? Well, you see, John worked for no one but himself. Perhaps he made a few dollars for recycling cans and bottles but there was no salary for all of the other refuse he removed. Also, there was no salary for all the shopping carts he retrieved and put where they belonged.

Just in case you misunderstand, John was never out panhandling. In fact, he asked nothing for what he did. He greeted everyone but bothered or annoyed no one.

His means of transportation was not a car, bus or even motorcycle. Instead, he rode his bicycle throughout the day to do his daily errands. That is why the city of Louisville purchased and gave him a helmit.

Surrounding communities are expressing grief over the death of this gentle man. Bicycle groups are preparing memorials, daily newspaper articles are being published and people are posting stories about their memories of John. A memorial was held by the city of Louisville and was attended by 500 grief stricken people who could not believe that John is gone. He was there to help children cross the street when they were going to school and was always willing to help anyone who asked.

There is one more thing you need to know about John Breaux. He suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, spent years taking the necessary medications and attending programs to help him cope with his mental illness and never objected or complained.

This does not fit the stereotypical view  of the savage, mentally ill person who is dangerous, commits murder and has no redeeming qualities. But, then again, what good ever did come from stereotyping. Do you think the Hollywood moguls will make a movie about such a gentle man? No, why bother when its possible to make ever more lurid versions of Friday the 13th and "Freddie." Think these movies help maintain those stereotypes of the mentally ill? Sure they do and it’s not deserved.

When will people stop stigmatizing the mentally ill and see them as the genuine people they really are?

John Breaux, this schizophrenic man will be missed by everyone. I know because my wife and I knew him and always appreciated what he did.

Your comments are appreciated.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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