Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Surrounded By Madness: A Memoir of Mental Illness and Family Secrets by Rachel Pruchno, Ph.D. An author interview about her memoir.

 Rachel Pruchno, Ph.D. is located in New Jersey. Surrounded By Madness: A Memoir of Mental Illness and Family Secrets was released on March 24, 2014. Dr. Pruchno is a psychologist , presently Endowed Chair, and Professor of Medicine at Rowan University. More information about the author will follow the interview. 

Andrea: Can you briefly share what 'Surrounded By Madness' is about?

Dr. Pruchno: Surrounded By Madness chronicles the experiences I've had as the daughter of a mother and mother of a daughter with severe mental illness. As a child and as a mother, I hid the mental illnesses from which my loved ones suffered. As a psychologist, I understood how important it is to break the silence. If we don’t talk about mental illness, we will never make progress in terms of diagnosis and treatment.

Andrea: How difficult was writing this memoir? 

Dr. Pruchno: Writing the first draft was therapeutic. I cried a lot and so did my husband. After that, I enjoyed learning to write memoir. Because I knew I wanted people to understand, I worked hard to make the book as engaging as possible.

Andrea: Did you ever feel reluctant to publicly share details about what happened in your family?

Dr. Pruchno: For more than 40 years, I didn’t tell people about my experiences.  Even once I started writing, I told people it was a book about being the mother of a child with mental illness. Once I came to terms with my daughter’s mental illness, I tackled my mother’s illness. I think it’s safe to say my “coming out” was a process.

Andrea: Your mother struggled with manic depression, and ultimately committed suicide at 51. Did you worry about your own mental health?

Dr. Pruchno: Yes, I most definitely did. Because my mother and I were alike in so many ways – our looks, our personalities, our sense of organization, our intelligence – I was sure that mental illness would be my destiny. As I experienced each age – the age at which she first showed signs of illness, the age at which she killed herself – I was sure that I would follow in her footsteps. Happily, I didn’t.

Andrea: Does the book focus on your adopted daughter? Please share a little about how she ties into your story.

Dr. Pruchno: My husband and I adopted Sophie and took her home from the hospital when she was 3 days old. We cherished her. The book shows how Sophie’s mental illness developed and how my husband and I worked to help her.  It shows the inadequacies of the medical system as we experienced them and the flaws of our legal system. It shows how mental illness pervades families and devastates them.

Andrea: After three years of writing this memoir, did the process resolve any unanswered questions that you may have had about how chronic mental illness?

Dr. Pruchno: I learned that, no matter what resources a family may have and how hard a family may try to deal with the issues and help the person who suffers from mental illness,  mental illness has the potential to destroy all in its path. I learned that while we can protect our children when they are young, once they turn 18, parents are virtually powerless to help them.

Andrea: You are married with children. How did your immediate family feel about your decision to write a memoir? Were they involved in deciding how you would tell the story?

Dr. Pruchno: My husband and my brothers were very supportive of my writing the memoir. My husband listened to me read each chapter as I wrote it. He corrected my grammar and punctuation. He helped me remember many of the details. My brothers filled in gaps as I struggled to understand our mother’s experiences. My son was 14 when I started writing.  One of the first things I had to do was tell him that my mother had committed suicide.  He read an earlier version of the book and corrected some of my writing errors. While the men in my life have been supportive, however, they were not involved in deciding how I would tell the story. I worked with a writing coach who helped me understand narrative arc and an editor who helped me polish the writing. 

Andrea: What would you say to families who are currently struggling with mental illness?

Dr. Pruchno: One simple message: don’t hide. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Tell the schools. Don’t be ashamed. You need all the support you can get.

Andrea: Could reading this book offer solutions or coping mechanisms to anyone touched by mental illness? If so, how?

Dr. Pruchno: I hope so. I hope Surrounded By Madness helps others touched by mental illness understand that they are not alone. I hope it helps people know that telling people about their experiences is critical and that it helps them ask others for help.

Andrea: Who is your target audience?

Dr. Pruchno: 
 1. Families of people with mental illness.
 2. Students and faculty in psychology, medicine, and social work
 3. Memoir readers

Andrea: What kind of feedback have you received thus far?

Dr. Pruchno: People tell me the book is gripping – that they can’t put it down and that they’re amazed at what I’ve lived through.

Purchase links: The book is available through most online booksellers. Amazon.com seems to be one of the few websites offering a pretty good discount:  http://tinyurl.com/k5xvmsz

Social media/contact information: The book trailer is on YouTube.com:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CypGRs0HjvU
Author website:  www.RachelPruchno.net
Book website:  www.SurroundedByMadness.net
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/surroundedbymadness
Author’s Psychology Today blog:  www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-in-the-famly

About the Author
Rachel Pruchno is Director of Research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging (http://www.rowan.edu/som/njisa/) and Endowed Chair, Professor of Medicine at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State University.
Dr. Pruchno has been the Principal Investigator on numerous research grants funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Aging, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Retirement Research Foundation, and the Cleveland Foundation. She has published more than 70 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, 10 invited book chapters, and co-edited Challenges of an Aging Society: Ethical Dilemmas, Political Issues. She has served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist (http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/), a leading scientific journal, since 2011.
As a weekly blogger, since January 2014, Dr. Pruchno has been contributing to PsychologyToday.com, the website of the magazine Psychology Today. The blog, “All in the Family: Mental Illness and Caregiving Across the Generations,” may be viewed at www.PsychologyToday.com/blog/All-in-the-Family.
She is married with four children, two of whom are dogs.
If you would like more information about Dr. Pruchno’s academic work, including her CV and publications, please visit her personal website at www.RachelPruchno.net.