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College of Science & Mathematics

Surrounded by Madness

An adopted daughter with her mother’s mental illness; what were the odds? A work inspired by a moment of desperation and inquiry, began as an honest attempt at an explanation, but soon became a realization of the past.

Rachel Pruchno watched her mentally ill daughter walk out of the house at 18; she wasn’t coming back. Pruchno collapsed on the couch while her husband helped her son with homework. It was then that she finally noticed that she was surrounded by madness and decided to write a memoir of what she and her family had kept hidden.

“My hope is that all who are mentally ill will come out of hiding,” said Pruchno, author of Surrounded by Madness. “I want to make life better for someone else.”

The Director of Research at the New Jersey Institute of Successful Aging and Endowed Professor of Medicine at Rowan’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, Pruchno came to the Glassboro campus to discuss her new book and the state of psychological care for those with a mental illness.

There are many factors that can cause someone to be dishonest with themselves or stay hidden when it comes to mental illness, such as: denial, labeling and stigma. All of these factors, says Pruchno, do not help a disease more prevalent than cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

According to Pruchno’s research, mental illnesses affect 11.4 million Americans, if children are included, 2/3 of the population is affected; it is involved in 90 percent of suicides.

Surrounded by Madness follows the life of Pruchno, as she incorporates a personal connection with such statistics. The memoir tells the story of her experience with her mentally ill daughter, whose condition was kept secret from the family.

“When my daughter left home, I realized that I had to explain this to my family and to my son. Writing about it seemed the best way to do it,” Pruchno explained.

Through writing her accounts with her daughter, it was then that Pruchno realized a connection in her family. As a child, she had dealt with her mentally ill mother, whose condition was hidden from the community as well.

“I wrote because I had hidden a lot of things in my life; it was my attempt at documenting all we had lived through,” Pruchno said.

While the book discusses mental illness from a family’s perspective, it brings to light several issues that intrigued the audience. Through her first hand experience with the mental healthcare system with her daughter, Pruchno discovered major problems in her career field.

Among the shortage of insurance providers and private payment, the treatment of mental illness often is neglected because it is unaffordable, and the methods don’t often provide the best results, addressed Pruchno.

“A lot of problems are treated with medicine that aren’t too effective,” Pruchno said. “There are a myriad of negative side-effects to medication, which often introduces more medications to counter act the side-effects; before you know it, someone with a mental illness can be on over five medications,” said Pruchno.

Though it is a testament to her long kept secrets, Pruchno said that her book is written with love to her daughter.

“This book is for the families,” she explained. “Mental illnesses can be very hard on the family unit, but I want them to realize that they aren’t alone, and that they can talk about it.”

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