Surviving Schizophrenia

Health, Home & Family
on April 22, 2010
Courtesy of the Staglin Family Brandon Staglin (left) with his parents, Shari and Garen Staglin, and sister Shannon Staglin, at the family's vineyard in Rutherford, Calif.

While in France on business in 1990, Napa Valley winemakers Shari and Garen Staglin received an unexpected phone call. Their 18-year-old son, Brandon, home for the summer from Dartmouth College, had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  

With his parents abroad, and after several taxing weeks of job and relationship worries, Brandon had a psychotic break, wandering aimlessly for days around the familys neighborhood in Lafayette, Calif. (pop. 23,908).

We thought, Well get back and get him home and everything will be OK, Garen recalls.

Soon after their return, however, the Staglins realized they would have to adjust to a new normal when doctors diagnosed Brandon with schizophrenia.

Devastated, the Staglins delved into understanding and coping with the disease, and slowly helped their son get on the right medications. Five years after Brandons diagnosis, Shari and Garen decided to do something to help other families in the same situation. They founded the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO), a charity devoted to raising awareness about mental disorders, and raising money for research.

Since its inception in 1995, the organization has raised more than $94 million to fund schizophrenia, depression and bipolar research, including breakthrough predictor tests for psychosis. Every year, IMHRO hosts a scientific symposium at the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health, in Rutherford, Calif. The organization also was instrumental in passing federal legislation in 2008 making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with mental illnesses.

Its been a hard journey for the Staglins, but life is looking up. Family support for a person with mental illness is crucial, they say. I still remember my dad saying, Theres a lot of love here, says Brandon, who now is married and does communications, marketing and Web design for the Staglin Family Vineyard and IMHRO.

Brandon is in great shape, Garen says. We dont take that for granted. Were very cognitive that he has an illness, and were devoting our energy and philanthropy to the identification of genes that are malfunctioning.

For Shari, the biggest turning point was learning to approach Brandons disease scientifically, not emotionally.  It wasnt our fault, she says. We werent to blame. There wasnt any shame.