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Frances Bowler - a personal insight

Before her passing in 2014, Frances Bowler finished writing a poignant account of her family’s very personal experience with mental illness.

Frances, known as Franki to her friends, worked tirelessly to promote understanding, and to remove the stigma of an illness that confronts so many.

Her own family was thrown into turmoil when her son Adrian started having psychotic episodes in the 1970’s, later he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

For a number of dark, difficult years, the Bowler’s struggled to identify what they were dealing with.

The thing that was hard and terrible to cope with, was that I just didn’t have a clue what was wrong with Adrian, and he didn’t know either.

At the time they lived on an isolated property and information was hard to come by. One day Franki read an article in a women’s magazine about a boy with schizophrenia.

I read carefully over and over again, wondering if this was what could be wrong with Adrian.

Living in the remote outback and only in touch with the Flying Doctor once a month, we had no access to medical books or information, and no internet to research Adrian’s symptoms. The New Idea article had a photo of this lonely teenage boy looking at me with the most pleading and sad eyes.  I could relate to him easily as he had the same wistful, haunted look that our son had.

Even after the diagnosis the struggle continued, until another article in the media offered a way forward.

Franki moved to Brisbane with her family in 1979 and in January 1985, she came across a story in the Courier Mail calling on people to attend a meeting with the aim of forming a Queensland branch of the Australian Schizophrenia Fellowship.

Dozens of other families read that article too and turned up to the Wesley Hospital to share their stories.

There were lots of people like us, older couples with either a son or a daughter accompanying them. In all eighty-nine people turned up for that inaugural meeting. All these people with the same problems, the same heartaches, the same hopes and the same weariness, and it was so gratifying to think that they all cared as much as we did to come and try and do something about the mire of uncertainty and fear in which we were all floundering.

I was suddenly so full of hope where before there had been none. Of course I realised that this was not going to be a miracle cure or anything like that, but at least we would have contact with people who were coping with the same problems, feeling the same hurts, looking for the same answers. Now we could be strong in numbers.

Franki became actively involved in the newly formed schizophrenia fellowship in Brisbane, and later on the Gold Coast.

So much was done in those early days, and is still being done today, helping MIFQ forge ahead to make it a force to be reckoned with.  I must admit that I was never one of the driving forces, but I was always interested, helped where I could and promoting it to anyone who would listen.

I think everyone who was at that first meeting at the Wesley Hospital had a vision of a powerful lobbying force that would move mountains – well at least make politicians get off their backsides and do something.

She continued to work to support people with schizophrenia throughout her life.

One of my recommendations at the very first meeting was to change the name of the illness, as ‘schizophrenia’ had such a stigma attached to it. People used to wince when I used that word. Although this hasn’t happened, I hope that one day it will be changed.


stories Coby