Grieving father's obituary for daughter who struggled with bipolar disorder fights stigma

Obituary spotlights stigma of mental illness
Published: Sep. 1, 2016 at 2:20 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2016 at 2:53 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The obituary a heartbroken father wrote for his daughter who lived in Ohio has garnered national attention. His words shined a light on the stigma surrounding mental illness.

One in four American adults experience mental illness in a given year -- more than 61 million people.

Katie Shoener's father wants to change the way people talk about it so more people will get the help they need. The 29-year-old who lived outside of Columbus lost her battle with bipolar disorder this month. Hours after she committed suicide, her father Ed started writing.

"Four a.m. I have to write this, I have to write her obituary. Because I didn't want there to be an uncertainty as to what happened," Ed Shoener said in an interview with WNEP-TV out of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he lives.

"So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness," he wrote in the obituary. "People say that 'she is bipolar' or 'he is schizophrenic.' Over the coming days as you talk to people about this, please do not use that phrase. People who have cancer are not cancer, people who have diabetes are not diabetes."

Becky Fela is with National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Cleveland.

"Mental illness is a physical illness, it involves the brain, so we need to treat it like other illnesses," she said.

Fela says Katie's dad was brave for speaking out. She says when it comes to mental illness, a lot of people fear what they don't understand.

"People need to feel a freedom to go to a psychiatrist's office and ask for help, and we don't have that right now," Fela said.

If you have a loved one fighting mental illness, she offers this advice -- understand the illness, do not take it personally, and do not try to fix it.

Katie's dad hopes speaking out about his pain will help other families.

"We just need to support and love each other through this terrible illness, so that someday, and that someday will come where they find a cure," he said.

When someone you love has depression or bipolar disorder, the whole family is affected. The best thing you can do is to learn more about the illness. To learn more or find support groups, you can visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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