Treatment Advocacy Center
We hear about horrific situations in Canada when interactions between mentally unstable people and law enforcement lead to tragic outcomes. Less well known are the longtime efforts of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to meet the needs of the 30% of their calls that deal with mental illness. While applauding the efforts of police to adapt, shouldn't we also be looking more closely at policies that are creating the chaos of so much untreated mental illness?
Families in Canada fighting for evidence-based care for relatives living with psychotic disorders should see the tenacity of the American families. And Democratic Americans abroad, like me, can let our representatives know that we want the mental health system to begin to meet the needs of people with the most severe illnesses.
Families are being encouraged through groups like HVM to think of auditory hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, impaired functioning and other symptoms of severe mental illnesses as just part of the human condition, not medical problems.
It's easy to think that if we just put more money into some kind of mental health services we could solve the problem. This belief prevents us from understanding the other complicated forces at work that keep some people trapped in severe mental illnesses.
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.
During the new session of the U.S. Congress, legislators will be considering the proposed "Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act." The decisions they make can have a big impact on mental health care in Canada.
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.