I read the heartbreaking story, in the May 5 Post and Courier “Lost among us: The Mental Health Crisis,” of 17-year-old Jack, who was taken handcuffed in a police car to a local mental hospital for treatment of “schizophrenia,” and now according to his mother, “will never achieve the normal things in life.”
I found this story doubly heartbreaking because modern treatment methods can spare parents and their children such brutal and agonizing experiences.
Under the current “medical model,” young people like Jack are told they have a “lifelong disease” that will always require them to take heavy mind-deadening medication with serious side effects.
They are given devastating “diagnoses” that stigmatize them the rest of their lives. Two-thirds of hospitalized mental patients fail to return to a normal life. They are put on disability and encouraged to take low-level jobs like supermarket baggers or shelf stockers. Studies show their life expectancy is reduced by 25 years.
Treatment not guided by the “medical model” has achieved very different results. The Scandinavian countries have some of the most successful programs. “Open Dialogue” treatment in Finland routinely achieves an 85 percent recovery rate with its patients, and the “Ordinary Life Therapy” program in Sweden gets similar results.
Both programs have virtually emptied mental hospitals in the area, which are used now mostly for long-term patients too deteriorated to benefit from newer treatment methods.
What’s their secret? Briefly, both programs de-emphasize hospitalization and heavy medication in favor of home treatment. “Psychiatric language” and “diagnoses” are discouraged, and both the patient and family participate in and agree to all treatment decisions.
In Open Dialogue Therapy, therapists begin meeting as a group in the patient’s home within 24 hours of first contact. Participants are the patient and important others, who might include in addition to the family, a teacher, employer, friends, pastor, or even a police or parole officer.
All input is respected and thoroughly aired. This group then agrees on measures needed to ensure the safety and well-being of all concerned during whatever crisis is under way.
Ordinary Life Therapy is much the same, except that the patient may live with a volunteer family (often a farm family) where “ordinary life” is combined with therapeutic knowledge with the help of the team, which is on call 24 hours a day.
I think these developments offer a glimpse of the future. The reputation of traditional psychiatric treatment has sunk to a low level, thanks to bogus research, over-hyped drugs, and heavy lobbying by pharmaceutical companies that put profits ahead of good medicine.
The newest “Bible” of psychiatry, DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), has been rejected by the National Institute of Mental Health as lacking validity, thus eliminating diagnoses like “schizophrenia” or “schizoaffective” as “lifelong diseases.”
Dr. Thomas Insel, NIMH director, says, “Patients with mental disorders deserve better.”
Jack and his parents certainly do.
Mary S. Newton, Ph.D
Bishop Gadsden Way