Seared into Randye Kaye’s memory is a terrifying day in 2003 when she rushed 21-year-old Ben to the emergency room of the local hospital near her home in Connecticut and told the front desk, “My son is having a psychotic break.” Ben was led away, and as Randye waited to learn what would happen next, she glimpsed him through the window of the lock-down room, frantically pacing and muttering to himself. All she could think was, “How did we get here? How did this happen to my baby?” The following day he was admitted to a psychiatric facility.
It was not the first time Ben (not his real name) had been hospitalized—there would be five hospitalizations that year alone—nor would it be the last. The troubled behavior that had begun when the bright, friendly, poetry-writing boy dropped out of high school three years earlier, had spun out of control with drug abuse, misdiagnoses, ineffective medications and, above all, Ben’s adamant denial that there was anything wrong with him. But it was hard for Randye to think of this as simply exaggerated adolescent rebellion.
When Ben was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia and given effective medication, the slow, zigzag road to recovery could begin, for Ben and for his loving, worn-out family—Randye, stepfather Geoff, baby sister Ali and Ali’s husband, Marc. Today, Ben is back in school, at the local community college, on the dean’s list, and for the past six months has held a job as a server in a local restaurant, where he has been given supervisory responsibilities.
"Ben loves his job and they love him,” Randye says, but she knows from painful experience that “a couple of days without his meds would spell disaster,” a disaster that had occurred time and again in the past, until Ben finally stopped “hiding, throwing up or chucking his meds in the trash.” Currently Ben is carefully supervised by family members while taking his medication, which is perhaps not ideal but more than worth the emotional discomfort. His treatment is one of the vital cornerstones of his improvement, along with love, purpose and structure.
Over the years since Ben became ill, Randye Kaye has put her considerable energy and background as an actress and TV personality into advocating for the mentally ill and their families, working with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, supporting the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and taking every opportunity to help erase the stigma of mental illness. She frequently speaks to the medical community as well.
“I’m in front of these people with M.D.s and Ph.D.s and M.S.W.s after their names. I tell them my letters are M.R.G, which stands for 'mother who refused to give up'.”
The ardent desire to communicate hope to families like her own led Randye Kaye to write a book about her son’s story, “Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope,” published in 2011. Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council member John H. Krystal, M.D., a leading schizophrenia expert at Yale University, wrote that the book “movingly depicts the difficulty and the importance of recognizing, accepting and managing the symptoms of this disorder.”
Randye Kaye calls herself a “huge fan” of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. She says: “Where would my son be now without research?” She believes that the best is yet to come for those struggling with mental illness and is eager to give it her all to ensure that it does.