Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Debbie Nau Redmond: Giving SILENT VOICES and Mental Health the platform it deserves

by Cyrus Webb

All of us have a platform. The important thing is what we choose to do with it. For Debbie Nau Redmond she has been able to take what was a family tragedy and use it as an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of mental health, and what all of us can do.

Her book SILENT VOICES shares that journey, and I think readers of it are sure to see not only how we can help give a voice to those who feel ignored but can make sure those who need help get what they need, too. 

Debbie, it’s great to catch up with you again. You re-released your book SILENT VOICES in 2015, sharing with the world your family’s journey with mental illness. What has it been like for you to see the continued response to what your family experienced? 

Throughout these last few years, majority of the responses has been very positive. People have embraced my book and have sent me very kind and encouraging emails. I think what makes me feel the best is to hear them say the have learned something new about mental illness, that they now have some understanding of the struggles that families go through, and they were moved by the loyalty and forgiveness my parents demonstrated. Hearing these wonderful confirmations makes me feel like I accomplished what I was hoping to achieve by writing this book.

Was it an easy thing for you to relive the events while writing the book?

Actually, No. At first it was a struggle. I was going back and forth on if I should even write the book. Then my mom encouraged me to move forward. She believed and trusted in me, and felt it could help others. I had to interview my parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and go through a lot of paperwork. Talking about the events with my family brought up a lot of unresolved feelings that I did not realize I still had. Emotionally, there was healing that needed to be done, however, I also realized writing down my feelings and the events became very therapeutic for me. By the end of the book, I felt like a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders and I was free.  I think it was the best healing activity I could have ever done for myself. Writing this book made me feel blessed because I was able to accept and let go of the pain and sadness, and rediscover my own happiness. It helped me close the chapter to this part of my life.

We see in the world that we don’t always grasp the impact of things unless we have experienced them personally. Do you think that is true when it comes to mental illness and the importance of our mental health?

Yes, I think there is a lot of truth to that with any difficult situation. I feel most people try to understand to a point. They want to have compassion and understanding but until you actually experience it, you truly do not know how difficult it is. Living with mental illness or watching a loved one struggle with mental illness is very complicated because it can be a vicious cycle, for instance: Sick, get help, take medication, feeling better, stop medication and then get really sick again. This cycle of ups and downs can be mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining. Most people do not witness the full aspect of dealing with an illness. 

When we read SILENT VOICES we get the sense that you were living in two worlds: one at home with your brother who struggled with mental illness and then life outside the home. 

What do you want people to know about the importance of taking care of themselves when helping a family member that might be ill? 

Good question and a lesson I did not learn until after the fact. When you live with a family member that has mental illness, you have to remember to step back and take care of yourself.  It is very important for your emotional and mental health. Watching a loved one struggle can be very stressful because you want to help, but either you can’t or they wont let you help. You have to take the time, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, to release the stress. You need to find ways that can help you release your frustrations– Exercising (walking, running, biking, tennis, swimming, etc); a calming activity (mediation, reading, playing or listening to music); or an artistic activity (painting, drawing, sewing, cooking, etc), anything that brings you joy. Also, find outlets that allow you to talk about your feelings. Visit with a counselor, support groups, family or friends. Discussing how you feel can be very therapeutic in many ways. Always remember it is okay not to have all the answers and it is okay to feel mad, frustrated, hurt, scared, sad and/or confused.  What’s not okay is when you hold these feeling inside because you will eventually break. You won’t be helpful to your loved one if you are struggling yourself. You need to stay balanced mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Taking care of yourself should always be your first priority. 

You discuss the judgment that your family experienced. Do you think that is one of the reasons why some don’t address mental illness?

Absolutely. Unfortunately, in our “enlightened age” social stigma against mental illness still exists today. Why is it that?  When people talk about someone who is ill, for instance, the flu or even cancer, they will discuss it openly, however if it is a mental illness, say depression or schizophrenia, they will whisper about it. Why? What is it about mental illness that people get embarrassed about?  It is a disease no different than Cancer, MS, MD or Parkinson’s and should be treated with the same respect as these diseases.  So many people are scared of mental illness or they dismiss it thinking it is a personality disorder, when in fact; it is a chemical imbalance of the brain. It is a physical ailment.

 I feel people tend to ignore things they do not understand, like mental illness. They would rather not have to deal with it because it is easier. The sad part of it all, people who have mental illness have to deal with a double-edge sword. Not only do they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from their disease, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. One fourth (24%) of the world population has some type of mental illness. I hope some day that mental illness will be accepted and respected like any other disease, considering more people experience mental illness than cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, MS or MD. If society treated mental illness with more respect and understanding, maybe more people would address it and get the help that is needed.

Forgiveness is something you and I have discussed on the radio show when it comes to your story. Do you feel as though that is something that has evolved for you over the years when it comes to the tragedy your family experienced at the hands of one of your own?

When we first discussed forgiveness, I told you that I forgave my brother instantly for what he did. What I didn’t realize was there was an underlying layer of forgiveness that I was still working on. When the tragedy happened with my brother Ricky, I was able to forgive him immediately because I loved him. I watched him go through a terrible two-year downward spiral of mental illness and I knew the tragedy was due to his illness. So it was easy for me to forgive him for the “act.” 

However, where I struggled with forgiveness was years later. As I grew older and I started to look back on life, and I realized what I was missing. I recognized I felt angry and robbed from having many wonderful family experiences.  I was robbed of my teenage years. I was robbed of my childhood innocents. I was robbed from experiencing love and happiness in my twenties, and I recognized I developed fear of judgment, betrayal and some PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

I learned over the years that forgiveness can be a very difficult thing to do, but it is also can be the greatest gift you can ever give yourself. It’s not about the person who hurt you or betrayed you… it’s about you and ONLY for you! Forgiving is not taking away the person’s accountability for what they did, it just allowing you the freedom to move on.  Just remember this… Not forgiving someone only hurts you, not them.  Forgiveness can be a very wonderful thing because it can free you and help you to truly be happy and enjoy life. My message would be not to rob your self from a happy life due to another persons act, even if it had horrible consequences. We all deserve love, peace, harmony and happiness in our life. The only way to accomplish that is to forgive and let go.

How have you found the courage to keep speaking out when it comes to mental health awareness?

I don’t feel it is a courage’s thing to do, I just feel it is the right thing to do. Since mental illness affects so many people (24% of the population), it is important to always speak freely and honestly. I never want anyone to feel embarrassed or ashamed of mental illness.  I personally look at it as a physical disease that needs to be addressed and respected. I hope being honest and speaking out will only teach compassion and understanding for all the families and individuals who have to deal with mental illness. I pray some day that the social stigma against mental illness will go away and that society will learn to understand and treat it with the utmost respect that is deserves.

I’ve never asked you this next question before, Debbie. Seeing what your family has dealt with, have you ever been concerned about your own mental health and the importance of checking in with yourself, making sure you’re okay?

Yes, it was a deep fear of mine. Statistically, women get Schizophrenia at a later age, so I was really scared that I inherited the “gene” since the illness was present on my dad’s side of the family.  I did talk to doctors and discussed my fears with counselors asking questions about schizophrenia and mental illness in general. Luckily, both the doctors and counselors said it was highly unlikely I would get Schizophrenia. They both felt if I were going to get it, it would have been during the time of the tragedy. The extreme amount of stress I was under would have triggered the disease. I have to admit, I felt very relieved to hear them confirm I would not get it. After seeing what my brother went through and how difficult it was on him, I would never wish that upon anyone.  

However, I did struggle with depression for a few years after the tragedy. I was dealing with survival guilt, bad dreams, anxiety, PTSD, anger and death. I recognized immediately that I needed to take care of myself and focus on getting help to resolve these issues. I did not want to live my life in sadness. My counselor was fantastic and helped me to work through all my issues and helped me grow spiritually. I feel very blessed to be happy and healthy. If you ever feel depressed, seek counseling. It takes a lot of courage to recognize you need help and then to purse getting help. Taking time to care of your health to become the best person you can be, is the best gift you can give yourself.

Though you have experienced tragedy in your life you have managed to move forward. What would you say to our readers about the importance of not giving up, even in the face of challenging times?

Thank you for asking this question, because I feel it is so important. Overcoming a difficult situation is not easy, it’s very hard! It takes courage, patience, understanding and acceptance that you DO deserve to be happy. It took a lot time and spiritual growth for me to forgive Ricky and to get to a peaceful place. I feel blessed for the experience because it made me a better person. Without the Ricky, I would not be the person I am today. Ricky taught me a level of spirituality that I otherwise would have never known. He taught me a level of understanding and compassion I would have never been able to find by myself. He taught me that I could overcome anything as long as I believe in myself. 

Out of tragedy grows knowledge and wisdom. I also realized that life is a choice. Personally, I decided to choose happiness and not hate. I remember reading many self-help books when I was younger to help me overcome and work through grief and forgiveness. There was one particular quote by Charles Swindoll that always stuck in back of my mind: “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it;” which is very true if you think about it. If we make the choices not to let bad things effect us, it won’t! 

I was lucky to learn and understand that life is not about lessons; life is about experiences - good or bad. They can help us grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Difficult situations help us to develop our inner wisdom. I now take difficult situations and turn them into a positive life experience. I try hard to see what I can learn and how I can overcome. It is not always easy, but I made the decision to never allow anyone or anything to predict and determine my happiness. Happiness comes from within you and you will always have the power to make the choice to be happy or not. Choose wisely, because life is short, and there are so many wonderful things to see and experience. Never give up and never make a permanent decision based on temporary situation. Always choose yourself and always choose happiness no matter how hard it can be. It will get better as long as you forgive, let go of your pain or anger and believe in yourself.

You and I have also discussed that this story—your story—is the thing that movies and TV shows are made of. What do you hope those who are just discovering your book take away from it?

My goal for writing the book was to teach people compassion and understand about mental illness and the struggles that families and individuals go through. Mental illness is the most ignored disease and I hope that after reading my book, people will give it the respect that it deserves and help stop misconceptions that are causing social stigma.   I hope my book encourages conversations with family and friends. I also hope my book demonstrates that you can overcome any difficult situation. That love, commitment and family loyalty can conquer all, and forgiveness can bring peace.

Thanks, Debbie, for your time. Continued blessings and success to you. How can our audience stay connected with you and get the book. 

Thank you Cyrus for all of your questions. I appreciate you bringing awareness to my book and mental illness. Blessings to you.

You can get my book through Amazon or my personal website at Ebook is also available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. 

I also have a charity called Silent Voices Foundation at Here you can get facts and information about Schizophrenia. I accept donations that will go to finding a cure and building half way houses for Schizophrenics. Tax receipts are available. Any help would be blessing and appreciated. 

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