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The Kendro Family Tries To Reduce Stigma Of Mental Illness

5:01 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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Elliott is a 23 year-old history and movie buff. Deep beneath his youthful exuberance is a mental illness.

WASHINGTON (WUSA)--Every time there's a mass shooting in this country, the words "mental illness" invariably follow. In recent years, the violent, mentally ill young men behind these horrific massacres have grabbed headlines and our attention.

But the vast majority who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, according to experts in the field of mental health. Yet there's still an extraordinary stigma in this country when it comes to mental illness. 

One in four American families are affected by a loved one with a mental health disorder. That's according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A courageous Virginia family is stepping forward to show another side of mental illness-one that is rarely seen or discussed. 

"This is my man cave," said Elliott Kendro, showing off a room in the family home lined with books and videos. "This is where I watch my movies," he said.

Elliott is a 23 year-old history and movie buff. Deep beneath his youthful exuberance is a mental illness.

"I like facts about history, religion, politics," he added.

His father, Joe, explained, "You don't love your child any less because they have a mental illness. You love them probably more. Sometimes I think Elliott was put here on earth for us, just to see if we could make it through with all this."

"I'm a good person,"said Elliott. "Smart. Intelligent. Usually beat Dad on Jeopardy." The close-knit father and son laugh uproariously. 

Misdiagnosed with ADD as a 1st grader, it took years for Elliott to get the correct diagnoses: Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder marked by difficulty with social interaction and often, repetitive behaviors. But he also had a mental illness: psychosis, a loss of contact with reality.

Recalled Joe, "He actually went out to a dumpster, they were building a new home, and started banging his head on the dumpster. If that doesn't break your heart, I don't know what does. To see someone go through that. And now, to look at him..."

Said Elliott, "I was delusional."

"You were delusional," responded Joe, "but you're doing so good now, right?"

His son smiled, and agreed.

Before now, there were years of heartbreak and struggle, including the night he head-butted his father and the family was forced to call 911.

"Elliott was thrown to the ground by a police officer, handcuffed and shackles put on his feet. That was very hard to see. In fact, I think I cried my eyeballs out that night," said Joe.

"It's hard on the whole family and on a marriage," explained Lorry Kendro, Joe's wife and Elliott's mother. "We've had to struggle to work together, be on the same page and that was always hard, difficult. We'd have different ideas on how we should have handled things."

Over the years, Elliott has been in and out of hospitals, some with conditions the Kendros call deplorable, at best.

Lorry remembered, "It was very scary. The lowest moment is when he was totally delusional and he thought he could fly."

Treatment and medication have helped Elliott enormously. And now, his parents fear for his future--what will happen to their son when they're gone. Options are extremely limited.

"I want him to live a normal life," said Joe. "He's probably 85-90% normal right now. Why should he be put in with a mixed population of people who have very, very bad anger management problems or severe illnesses? Would you want your son to go to a place like that?"

Added Elliott, "It's tough. It's tough. But you got to keep trying. Try your best."

There's little time for self-pity. Elliott and his family are looking forward, taking each day one step at a time.

"Elliott is just the sweetest person," said Lorry. "He brings a lot of joy into our lives."

"I'm very proud of him," said Joe, beaming.

Said Elliott, "And I feel sorry for the really, really, really disabled kids who can't dress themselves, who can't get their own showers. I don't know why God would do that to those people. Why would God make people so disabled?"

Elliott is among the lucky ones. He has loving parents who are his primary caregivers now and ensure that he eats well, takes his medicine and gets the help he needs. 

If you'd like more information on mental illness and the resources that are available, check out:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org

The National Institute on Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov

Written by Andrea McCarren

WUSA 9 

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