Local Author Strives to Dispel Myths of Mental Illness

As 18-year-old Amanda spirals into mania, her father, psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Benson, sees the realization of his worst fears: his daughter is not just moody, but truly ill. With his words, his diagnosis - manic depressive illness - his world and that of his family is forever altered.

Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family Journey Through Bipolar Disorder, a novel by Marietta resident Karen Winters Schwartz, is a story of a family who is dealing with the tragedy of bipolar disorder, but it's not tragic. It's funny, sad and thought provoking - and as real and as raw as mental illness itself.

Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is Winters Schwartz's debut novel. She is an active board member of NAMI Syracuse (local affiliate of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), an author and an optometrist. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she spent 13 years of her life pursuing a seemingly endless education at The Ohio State University. She received her undergraduate degree in microbiology, her Master of Science in Immunology, and a doctorate in optometry. She and her husband moved to Central New York 23 years ago, where they've raised two daughters. This novel is, at its core, a personal family journey.

Winters Schwartz's main goal with this novel is to decrease stigma.

"I want to reach those who don't know schizophrenia from sauerkraut or bipolar from a baked trout, who'll just say, 'Hey. Cool title. Let's see what it's about.' I want to entertain, and if I sneak a little knowledge and understanding about mental illness in there-well then, I've done my job," said Winters Schwartz.

One of the most difficult aspects for families dealing with a loved one's mental illness is the guilt and the shame and the lack of support. Immediate family members are often alone on their journey with mental illness, alienated by family, friends, school teachers and administrators and the community in general. With 20 percent or one out of five people struggling directly with major mental illness, this translates into countless individuals who are affected collaterally, on a daily basis, by these very real neurobiological diseases.

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