Two recent books by high profile psychiatrists provide readers with background knowledge that is essential in shaping our own responses to one of the biggest social problems of our times: severe mental illnesses. Now that psychiatrists are increasingly willing to enter into the messy public arena, it's up to the public to see what we can do with the information they are providing.
When people suffering from mental illness receive intensive treatment in programs specifically designed for them, most of them do much better. Anti-psychotic medications are understood to provide the foundation upon which any other treatments can be added. These messages are in direct conflict with the message from journalist Robert Whitaker. Robert Whitaker does excellent work describing the egregious practices of the pharmaceutical industries. However, his extreme stance against the value of psychotropic medications is scary. Any parents of a psychotic son or daughter who heard his recent presentation in Vancouver would want to keep their child far away from the early psychosis intervention programs that offer the best hope for recovery.
A January 8 letter to the Toronto Star headlined "Preventing Another Newtown" pointed out that "The perpetrators of almost every mass shooting were on psychotropic drugs." As absurd as it may seem, there is a myth that continues to grow after mass shootings and that is that the cause of these shootings are psychiatric medications themselves. But studies demonstrate that most acts of violence are committed by people who are not being treated.
Events like this would never happen if accessing mental health services was as easy as getting guns. Canadians should not feel sanctimonious about this tragedy. The problem is not only guns. What we do share with our grieving cousins south of the border is a lack of access to appropriate mental health services.
Current anti-stigma campaigns emphasize that most people with mental illnesses aren't violent. This is very true. They also point out that people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. Also true. But the research is clear that people with untreated psychosis are a greater danger to themselves and others than people who aren't psychotic. People with untreated psychotic disorders have a higher rate of violence than do the general population.
Even though Schizophrenia Awareness Day is limited to May 24th, Canadians are exposed to education about schizophrenia all year long. Every time they read a gruesome news article about it, or have a difficult encounter with someone with an untreated psychosis, they receive confusing knowledge. It creates the kind of image of severe mental illnesses that crusaders against stigma would like them to forget.