It was in 1999 when Marjorie Baldwin’s son was diagnosed with schizophrenia — a diagnosis that led to a series of experiences she would later write about in her book, Beyond Schizophrenia: Living and Working with a Serious Mental Illness.
Baldwin, a former labor economist and now health economist, says she focuses her research on mental illness, looking at the issue of discrimination toward people who experience mental illnesses.
Baldwin says she studies how mental illness may impact daily or workplace experiences. She hopes to raise awareness about it, possibly leading to changes in policies and stigmas, goals she also seeks to accomplish through writing the book.
“People with mental illness have very low employment rates, and those who are working tend to have low wages,” Baldwin says. “There’s kind of a mindset that people with mental illness can’t work, especially if it’s a serious mental illness.”
Baldwin says this work is especially important to her because the discrimination and stigma she witnessed toward her son. To tell her story, Baldwin decided to write about her experiences, adding a personal perspective to contrast with the negative stereotypes about people with mental illnesses.
Baldwin says she combined two different perspectives in her book: her personal perspective as a parent of a son with mental illness and her professional experience as a researcher who has studied mental illness' impact in the workplace for 15 years.
Each chapter of the book begins with a personal story, followed by the research connected to that story, Baldwin says.
For example, she says one chapter is about stigma.
“After my son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was in the hospital for two weeks,” Baldwin says. “When he first came home afterwards, we had a family wedding to attend, and he wanted to go. The family knew about his illness, and at the dinner we were all seated at these round tables with various family members. After everyone finished eating, I noticed that everyone got up from our table and left.”
Though she expressed her personal emotions through the storytelling aspect, Baldwin says she remained objective when presenting and connecting the research.
During a lecture on mental illness, the mental health system and the stigma against mental illness in her health economics class, she presents the facts to counter widespread myths.
“At the beginning of the class, I would ask, ‘How many of you know someone … who has experienced a serious mental illness?’” Baldwin says. “Almost all of their hands go up. This is not a rare disease, this is not something only a handful of people get. A few (students) in each class will say ‘Thank you — my brother, my sister, my mother, aunt — has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or something. It really helps them understand what they’re going through.”
Now, Baldwin is conducting further research on mental illness or disability disclosures in the workplace.
Funded by the National Institute for Mental Health, Baldwin says her study aims to find conclusions that could guide people with disabilities who are unsure of the possible consequences of disclosing such information to their employers and bosses.
Rebecca White, an associate professor and research co-investigator for the study, says she was once one of Baldwin’s students who felt a personal connection to the story, as White's father also has schizophrenia.
Based on her dad’s success in balancing a job with a serious mental illness, White says she was curious to find out how the context of the work, family or any environment may “constrain or promote opportunities for success for employees with serious mental illness.”
During her graduate studies, White collaborated with Baldwin to conduct qualitative and exploratory research on these daily environments.
“Bringing her perspective as a health economist in with my public health perspective were two very different languages, but I think they’re both languages that provide important perspectives on these issues,” White says. “Part of the reason we were able to see eye-to-eye from these different disciplinary perspectives may have been because of the shared lived experiences with having a family member with serious mental illness.”
White says the study aims to identify conditions in which it may or may not be helpful to disclose mental illnesses to employers. It also aims to inform policymakers about processes that could lead to the employee’s success over problematic circumstances.
“I appreciate that Marjorie Baldwin has been able to share both her voice and her family members' voices in her recent book,” White says. “To intertwine that with the science and research perspective I think is going to speak to family members, scholars, policymakers to help improve our understanding and our openness to what it means to be diagnosed with a serious mental illness.”
Business analytics graduate student James Shnowske says he was impacted by Baldwin’s work with her research and her book. With his interest in healthcare services, Shnowske says knowing about the different sectors and policies inspires him to work toward system policy change.
In addition, he says Baldwin’s work has helped him learn to be more compassionate and understanding toward those with mental illness.
“It was amazing to hear the story both she and her son went through,” Shnowske says. “She wanted us to understand that people with mental illnesses don’t choose to have the disease, so we really understood the stigma behind mental illness. The best thing about her book is the personal connections. It shows the passion.”
Baldwin says the book took about two to three years to complete, and it was published in 2016. On Amazon, it has a review average of 4.7 out of 5 stars.
“I’ve had a lot of parents contact me who are going through the same thing,” Baldwin says. “They say they’ve read my book, it helped them, or they have questions for me. That’s been very rewarding. That’s one of the main reasons I wrote the book.”
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