Mental illness series

The time has come for all of us to learn more about mental illness.

Some of us have become “experts” by default due to mental illness of our family members or friends. Anyone who lives in an Urban area or goes into large cities has seen the homeless on the streets. The folks pushing their shopping carts. In nearly all cases mental illness comes before living on the street homelessness.

When I do a series I generally research the topic and this subject is no difference. Mental illness is one subject I follow and study because like it or not my sister’s schizophrenia/manic-depressive/bipolar disease has given me a personal insight of mental illness treatment (or lack of treatment) in the US.

My degrees are in Psychology, Anthropology, and Sociology, as well as a MA in counseling and some post graduate work in Personality Assessment. Even with my college education I still don’t have a lot of answers about why my sister started showing symptoms of mental illness when she was 10 years old. My parents were in full denial — the fact that a 10 year old child was trying to kill her 13 year old sister to them was merely siblings doing their thing. All the blame for her actions were my fault according to my parents — since I was the oldest. There was a pattern to my sister’s attacks — she would scream while attacking me something about being ordered by (blank) to kill me (“he says to kill you”, “I gotta kill you”).

I figured out that she was having violent dreams and then getting confused with being awake and dreaming — something like sleep walking. Sleepwalking was something I understood because several of my friends had siblings who were sleep walkers — although none of them were violent.

Way back then no one even knew much about mental illness or what the symptoms of mental illness were. Not a whole lot has changed. A few years back I was at a feed store in a rural town. Across the street there were police cars and an ambulance in front of a small house. The clerks at the feed store told me that sometime during the night thugs had broken into the small house and beat the woman nearly to death. Then the clerks began to tell me about this woman — who was clearly mentally ill by their descriptions of her behavior. She was a text book case of Schizophrenic/manic depressive. I did my best to help the clerks understand mental illness and abnormal psychology. They thought that she was merely the local stupid crazy lady, but when I left they had more of an understanding that the woman was mentally ill. Certainly my diagnosis was based on behavioral descriptions of lay folk — telling me about their observations. In the next days the local newspaper confirmed why assessment of what her mental illness was called.

Although there isn’t much we lay folk can do about the mental health problem in the US — we can educate ourselves and then perhaps take the next step and demand that the politicians take a look at the effectiveness of current laws and current treatment of the ongoing problem of untreated mental illness in the US.

There are a whole lot of books on mental health and I listed two by E. Fuller Torrey in my previous post on untreated mental illness.  Last night I found another helpful book about the failure of the mental health “industry” to treat those with mental illness. “My Brother Ron:  A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill”, by Clayton E. Cramer is a well researched book about mental illness and its impact on one family as well as how mental illness impacts all of us. Cramer’s brother Ron story plays out in Southern California. Now one would assume that California would be enlightened in their treatment of the mentally ill. Not exactly, since Ron Cramer’s illness began just about the time that most mental hospitals in California closed their doors. Change some of the details and move the location of the events to Northern California and this could be my sister’s story. Although the age my sister’s psychotic episodes began were much earlier than in Ron Cramer’s case.

The book — My Brother Ron — is a good place to begin because the research is there — the number of people who have Schizophrenia is estimated to be about 1.5% of the population. That small number of people has a ripple effect on the rest of us. Siblings of the schizophrenic like the author Clayton Cramer and myself and the millions of siblings are impacted. My parents were in compete denial as are many other parents. My sister also has the disorder Anosognosia which means she doesn’t realize or can’t understand that her alternative reality isn’t normal. She thinks that she is normal and everyone else is crazy. She has a disability but is unaware of her disability. Anosognosia is one of the that many mentally ill refused to take their meds.

Meds — anti psychotic drugs — this just may be at the center of the mental health crisis in this country. On one hand there are some that believe mental illness to be a myth. Then there are the major pharmaceutical corporations who develop and market the meds to treat various mental illnesses.  There are numerous well researched books about the oversell and misrepresentation of drugs for mental health prescribed by MD Psychiatrists. At one time the public was learn to believe that schizophrenia was just a cure away via the magic pill made by the knights on white horses the Pharm corporations.

The treatment of mental illness is still very primitive in the US. Jails have become the new mental “health” hospitals for thousands. Torrey’s recent books cover the statistics of jails being used as the dumping ground for the mentally ill in the US.

When I studied for my degree in Anthropology one of the courses I took was Cross Cultural Issues and Mental Illness — sort of Anthropology Abnormal Psychology — study of how different cultures view “Madness” and how the mentally ill are treated in different cultures. Rethinking Madness by Paris Williams, PhD is the next book on my Kindle I’ll be reading after I finish – My Brother Ron. A used book I have ordered is: Schizophrenia, Culture, and Subjectivity: The Edge of Experience (Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology) by Jenkins, Janis Hunter. This book is coming as well:  Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Abnormal Psychology (Annual Editions) by Halgin, Richard

One of E. Fuller Torrey’s  Surviving Schizophrenia, 6th Edition: A Family Manual is also on the way. I have the first edition of his book and I bought one for my parents which they refused to read. Anyone who has a family member who has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia really needs to read Torrey’s book. Perhaps anyone who lives in a large urban area should read this book as well. Although homeless folks with mental illness are moving into the smaller towns. I’ve seen them in the American Southwest, Silver City, New Mexico and cities and towns in Northwestern Arizona.

There is no logical or humane reasoning to support the idea that the US should go back to the old days of the insane asylums found in most large towns. This is the 21st century and we should have a better way to treat mental illness — sending thousands of mentally ill homeless to live in alleys and abandoned buildings are stories from epic science fiction novels. Sending thousands of mentally ill humans to live in jail cells is so 16th century. Will our rich and over indulged Senators and Congressional Reps give a damned to make major changes to Federal laws? Will the States wake up and make sensible and meaningful changes to current laws regarding involuntary treatment of mentally ill? Three of the most recent mass murders have been diagnosed with untreated mental illness. Reminder — not every person with an untreated mental illness will become mass murderers — most are a danger to themselves or in danger from the cops.

Just so that you know that I am not and can not dwell on  what Torrey calls the American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System, I also found some great used books on Art — multimedia Art.

Do you have a relative or friend who has Schizophrenia or other mental illness?


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