December 10, 2010

Jayne Appel: Family and Mental Illness

The following is a guest post by Jayne Appel, Center for the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars and Team USA.  You can visit Jayne’s website here and connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @jayneappel.

Throughout my life, mental illness has been something I have always been forced to think about. Most of society simply sees me as a professional athlete, with no worries in the world, other than keeping my body healthy and able to perform on the court.

My story, however, is very different. I grew up with a family member who is a diagnosed schizophrenic. It started around the time I was in the sixth grade and he was in high school. At the time, still being so young and not understanding what exactly a mental illness was, it was something that was difficult for me to cope with. I thought “my family is the only family dealing with this…why can’t we just be normal.” I didn’t reach out to my friends for support and it was almost something I was ashamed to talk about.

When I got to high school, I was still learning to cope with having a family member who was sick. For some reason, I couldn’t grasp what exactly was going on in his mind and how I could help at all. I struggled to have a normal sibling relationship with him and at times felt uneasy. This was all simply because I didn’t understand the disease and how to help someone living with it.

I decided to study this at Stanford University and majored in Psychology. Over time I noticed the more informed I became about the brain and how it functions, the better I felt about my family member. I was able to eliminate the stigmas in my head that so many people fall victim to in our society. I wrote multiple papers, became involved with the Crisis Intervention Team on a family panel, and literally devoted all of my studies and focus towards the brain.

Now, with a better understanding of what is going on, I have been able to form a strong relationship with him and enjoy our time together. I have also decided to use my position as a professional athlete to broadcast information about mental illnesses and how we can rid of the stigmas tied to them. When I saw what BringChange2Mind was working on, I instantly wanted them to be involved with my WNBA teams first “Mental Health Awareness Night”. I hope to continue to be a part of the team working towards getting rid of stigmas and raising awareness about mental health.



  1. Hello Jayne,
    After reading your post, I felt an immediate kinship, although I am much older. I have written a book, not yet published, about my life growing up with a mother who was schizophrenic and paranoid. Because of her illness she was arrested and tried for murder when I was eighteen years old. Embarassed, confused and alone, I have spent my life trying to overcome the stigma of liviing in a “mentally ill” family. If not for President Kennedy changing the mental health laws, my mother would have died in an institution. You should be proud of yourself for reaching out and educating yourself and others about this horrible condition, one that disables a person from the inside out. Thanks for your time and continued efforts.
    Carol Hayes

    Comment by Carol Hayes — December 10, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  2. Hello Jayne,
    After reading your article I felt an immediate kinship although I am much older. I also grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic; my mother. Because of her illness, she was arrested for a horrible crime when I was eighteen and I have lived my years tried to rid myself of shame and confusion. If not for President Kennedy changing the mental illness laws, my mother would have died in an institution like many thousands did in her day. I have written a book about this journey although not yet published. I admire you for your dedication to this cause and hope we can all overcome the stigma of our loved ones and ourselves with a “congested” brain.
    Carol Hayes

    Comment by Carol Hayes — December 10, 2010 @ 10:52 am

  3. if you could recommend one piece of reading material about the subject, what would it be?

    Comment by gina — December 10, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    • hello jane,
      i would like to deeply congraculate you and your workings for mental ilness people. you are such a good, sweethearth and clever person i belive humanity, and every person every having obstacles are just human beings. just need, need love and little happines just like us we have to give them a life I support your ideas all my hearth and best wishes and noel holidays

      serdar devirmis composer/look at them youtube:serdard1 channel

      Comment by serdard1 — December 11, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

  4. Well done, Jayne.

    Comment by Jenn Hart — December 10, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

  5. Im on the amtrack passing through Salinas,to SF Bruins at St Marys sun, cal vs LB sat. wish Stanford wasnt playing same time as UCLA,anyways as the train pulled out of LA past the so called twin towers of the LA county jail, I thought of you, that you carred enough, the learn about the dungon that is home the the largest community of mentaly ill in America. you are doing a good thing,keep it going

    Comment by Terry Anthony — December 10, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

  6. Im on the amtrack passing through salinas to SF, leaving LA I thought of you,as the train left behind the so called twin towers of the LA county jail.Remembering thatyou cared enough to write about the dungon that is home to the largest mentaly ill community in America, Good work, destiny rides a brave horse.

    Comment by Terry Anthony — December 10, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

  7. Hi Jayne:

    Sooo proud of you for all you do.

    Tom & Bea

    Comment by Tom & Bea — December 11, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  8. Awesome post! I, too, found a great deal of help and healing in learning more about my husband’s mental illness. It helps so much to have other people to talk to, and I’m glad you found a way to connect with your brother and so many other people who can benefit from your story!

    Comment by Heather Whistler — December 12, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

  9. Thank you for sharing your story. I have a family member with major depression, whose mother committed suicide when he was just a boy. If your work encourages just one person to learn more about mental illness and reach out to another in need, you will have made an important difference. I hope you keep learning and sharing.

    Comment by wnba fan — December 12, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

  10. Hi Jayne – and thanks for bringing your experience to light. My daughter, too, went through a similar experience when her big brother “Ben” began to change…and also became a psych major to help others. They have their relationaship back now, too – a source of great gratitude!
    Carol, congrats on your memoir, and much luck with its publication. It took me five years of revisions and persistence to find the right publisher for my book “Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope” and I’m thrilled it will be published next year by Rowman and Littlefield. If we all continue to work together toward open dialogie, our relatives and our families no longer have to feel alone!

    Comment by Randye Kaye — December 13, 2010 @ 9:25 am

    • Randye, congrats on your book being published. How thrilled you must be! What an accomplishment! My mom was sick in the 70’s when no one talked about mental illness. Things are better now but there still needs to be a lot of research on the brain and a better understanding of the general public. You and Jayne rock on!

      Comment by Carol Hayes — December 13, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  11. You know, this society has always stigmatized people who have mental problems: depression, panic disorders, schizophrenia, etc.

    It’s time that we understood that people suffering from these conditions need emotional support, most of all.

    Thank goodness, there are a whole host of therapies to deal with these illnesses rather than using the traditional “locking people up and throwing away the key.” Or worse, ridiculing them!

    Today, some mental illnesses are easily treated with therapy and medication. However, there is always room for improvement.

    Comment by Triumphanteer — December 13, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  12. Hi Jayne,
    My name is Anna. I found your post after doing my bi-weekly browse around the bring change 2 mind blog and like many posts, I was immediately touched. While I was in college at the University of Missouri, living in the Kappa Alpha Theta house with my friends, my brother was in another town have a mental break down. He has since been diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. Oddly enough, my college roommate was struggling with a similar situation. We have since connected after graduation. Becca’s (my college roommate) older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the same time. We experienced the difficulties of having a family member with a severe mental illness. Now we are taking to blogging, we would like to write a book, and we would like to shape our careers to encompass mental health. For me, it’s through public health and prevention. For Becca, it is through policy.

    We have created a blog called: Supporting Our Siblings.

    We would love your support. If you would also be willing to write a guest post for our blog we would be honored.

    Thanks again for all you do, Anna

    Comment by Anna — December 13, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

  13. Thanks for speaking out Jane. My Dad wasn’t diagnosed until a few years ago. He always avoided Doctor’s, but when he was having a heart attack he hopped onto a bus getting himself to the Vet hospital in SF. I knew for awhile what he had because of all the TV movies, and talk shows. My Mom was killed when I was 12, so we had thought that is what made him “sick”. On meds we finally got a chance to see the Dad we knew when were kids. As an adult I could now look into his eyes and see regret, but also the joy at seeing his kids and telling him we loved him after years of not seeing him. He didn’t get to see his oldest daughter as she had committed suicide a year earlier, but the rest of us had a couple more yrs to spend with him before he died last fall. He is finally at peace and we are able to let go of the anger and pain. I have been lucky to have a partner for 14 years to help me through the hard times. One sister is now happily married, another has had a boyfriend for many yrs, and my brother is writing and making music. The scars will never go away, but we take the good out of the bad to make us stronger. I am grateful that you and Chamique Holdsclaw have come out in the open about mental illness. Thank you.

    Comment by Kendal — December 16, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  14. My Dad was finally diagnosed with it a couple years ago. He had been wondering around homeless for the past several decades. Everyone thought it was because my Mom was killed. He was left with 5 kids 4-16; I was 12. We kids took care of each other the best we could. We didn’t understand what was going on with him. When we did see him he would say all kinds of weird things. Once he said I was a witch out to do things to him. As there were more talk show and movies about Schizophrenia I knew that is what Dad had, but he never went to Dr’s, until 2 years ago when he was having a heart attack, he got on the bus and went to San Francisco Veterans hospital. There a psychologist diagnosed him and got him on meds, but he said he had it so long the meds might not work. He wasn’t even suppose to live, but he did for 2 more years. I got to spend some time with him (I live in Seattle)and really look into his eyes. I saw fear, anguish, but I also saw joy that his kids were all with him, having not seen him in years. He finally talked about things he never mentioned before, Mom, and his deep regret about his oldest daughter who committed suicide a couple of years earlier. He got out of the hospital and was able to stay with our brother for awhile. Turns out the hospital missed a huge tumor in his gall bladder, it had grown through his intestines and liver. He died last November, and I was so glad we had that little time to talk. When I realized what people with Schizophrenia live with, what goes through there mind I cried. What a horrible disease to have.. He kept running from state to state that we realized it wasn’t just from grief of Mom’s death, but from the disease. I know this is long, but it felt good to share with others that have been or are going through the same thing. That you for sharing Jayne!

    Comment by Kendal — December 21, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

  15. Hi Jayne,
    Thank you so much for having the courage to put yourself out there as someone who has some media exposure, willing to approach the subject of mental illness in a compassionate and appropriate way. Those of us who have had experiences with mental illness through family members, friends, and our own selves know how hard it is to deal with stigma. I am very grateful that you are trying to help. I, too, have a personal story but it would probably take too long to explain. Let me just say because I have a chronic mental illness, which started from child abuse, I have experienced incredible, amazing indignities, as if I was some freak, idiot,low-life,outcast, etc. People that have no idea how tortured I was have the audacity to treat me like I am a lower part of society. I often wonder who is crazier.

    Comment by mathew — December 31, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

  16. Jayne, have you read about Terry Bradshaw’s battles with mental illness and depression and him speaking about it?

    Comment by Kevin Yost — January 11, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  17. Thanks Jayne, for coming forward with your sibling’s story. I am glad you are brave enough to talk about mental health in the open, as so many famous people will not do so, and if they did it would help raise awareness for all of us. I live with Schizoaffective Disorder, and I also have family members who have M.I. and so I understand what it is like from both sides. Thanks for sharing your information.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 19, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  18. Very good article! I will post some related stories

    Comment by Frances Pergamo — February 4, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

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