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07 May 2006 @ 03:23 am
Another look at mental illness  
Salon recently published one look at our current mental health system in our post-institutionalization world. Today there's a new article by Freddy Redekop.

I've also been watching the Showtime series Huff recently, which has a main character named Teddy who suffers from schizophrenia. In a few episodes he runs away from his expensive private group home and in recent episodes has been placed in a more openly structured situation that he chose for himself. His brother, the title character, entered into a legal contract that spells out Teddy's veto power and other rights. I remember thinking what a great idea!

In a heartbreaking portrayal of how broken families dealing with severe mental illness can be, Teddy's mother tells him that he is beautiful and she loves him but she will die if she has to see him again. Years ago (we are told) he tried to strangle her to death--for fear that she would institutionalize him.

What is the answer for severely mentally ill people and their families? I suspect there are no easy ones or one-size-fits-all treatments to be had. Our understanding of the brain is in its infancy. But we can start with good questions and I applaud Salon for giving this issue space and careful examination.
(Anonymous) on May 7th, 2006 06:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Mental Illness
It was a very good article, from a clearly committed caregiver who is working in a clearly dysfunctional system that serves neither the well-being of the caregiver nor the client.

Individuals with mental illness do require rehabilitation services that will help them to redefine their sense of not only who they are, but who they can be. Sadly, and in spite of a number of dedicated caregivers in the field, the system itself puts its own needs ahead of the very people it is supposed to be serving. As a result, clients end up with the cheapest or most efficient therapies that teach helplessness and may well make them dependant upon the system while caregivers burn out quickly do to the demands of the task and the low pay rate.

I say as much from the perspective of an individual who went through an acute schizophrenic break. What makes my experience most unusual is that I didn't go to the hospital and therefore, didn't receive any form or psychiatric medications or formal therapy. It's been four years since my breakdown. I have been working for the past three years, my relationships are all stable, I have still not received any form of psychiatric medication nor any degree of formal therapy. You would never know looking or talking to me that I had gone through an acute schizophrenic break. By all accounts, I am not only recovered, I am cured. I might seem to be an anomaly but I've been researching what happened to me and why for the past few years and the data I've gathered demonstrates that for many people, schizophrenia is a highly curable disorder with the right kind of treatment.

The most successful treatments de-emphasize medication and the stigma of labels; they rely on caring, empathic support preferably in respectful relationships created between the individual undergoing the crisis and his or her caregivers. The success rate with individuals who receive this kind of care is absolutely phenomenal -- as high as 85%. Yet so many people in this culture receive the message that they are incurable, that whatever dreams and hopes they had for themselves are over, that the best they can do is the most rudimentary of work while coping with the negative side effects of neuroleptic drugs that produce precisely the drooling picture painted in this article. [Reference: Tardive Dyskinesia (http://www.psyweb.com/Glossary/tardived.jsp)] It may well be as some clinicians report... it's not the disorder that produces the chronic dysfunction -- it's the treatment.

Thanks for a place to vent and share some of my concerns. Any readers wanting more information on schizophrenia and recovery are welcome to start by reviewing the articles posted in my blog:


Tapatitapati on May 7th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Mental Illness
Thanks for the links. You have a great perspective to share. Really, our actual knowledge about the brain and how it functions--or fails to function properly--is in its infancy. Psychiatry today is mostly a committee driven profession where the experts get together and vote on what symptoms constitute a particular diagnosis. They are groping around in the dark, really, but they want to look like they really know what they're doing. Sure we've learned a few things along the way but there's so much more we need to know before we can go around calling certain diseases incurable.

If you ever get a chance to read up on or take classes in Psychological Anthropology I think you'd find it very interesting. It explores cross-culturally how different societies imagine that our psychology works--and how this in fact influences people's actual experience of their psyche! Each culture has a folk-model of how emotions work, what causes mental/emotional dysfunction or delusional thoughts and behaviors--and what cures or helps such conditions.

It really causes you to step back from what we believe to be true and take it all with a grain of salt.

And it's only recently that Western medicine started to look at what constitutes mental health. Up to now we've mainly looked at dysfunction. How do we get people to health unless we determine what that consists of?

Please do feel free to comment any time. :)