Fear and Misinformation and Throwing Away 50%

DJ Jaffe and Dr. Fuller Torrey are two leading figures in the cause for forced treatment of persons with severe mental illness. Their argument is that persons with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and severe bipolar disorder lack the ability to contribute to their care.

While in many cases, that is true, in equally as many cases – by their own admission – it is not.

But that hasn’t stopped them from spewing fear rhetoric to any media outlet that will listen, in order to further the cause for the 50% who truly do need better access to care, a higher level of care, and even involuntary care for their own well-being.

By fanning the fire of half-truths of persons with severe mental illness through an agenda of fear, DJ Jaffe and Dr. Fuller Torrey are doing a huge disservice to the 50% of persons with severe mental illness they couldn’t care less about – the ones that do have insight, that do contribute to their treatment, and do function in society.  And that is very, very dangerous for that 50%.

Here is why DJ Jaffe and Dr. Fuller Torrey dangerous.

Mr. Jaffe quotes – and violently agrees with – Congressman Tim Murphy, about the congressional subcommittee hearing on violence and mental illness held two weeks ago:

This panel is about mental illness and violence, and I am not gonna pull a convicted felon out of jail to talk about why they killed someone. I’m just not gonna do it. … As a psychologist I have an obligation to do no harm. And I am not gonna put someone with mental illness on just to put them on parade. And someone with serious mental illness or schizophrenia or psychotic disorder (this pressure) can set them off.

FACT: One of my family members with Schizoaffective Disorder was approached to possibly testify at the hearing.  Another adult was also approached to possibly testify.  Both were ready and willing to discuss the state of mental health care in America.  But Congressman Murphy didn’t want any consumers on the panel, period.  Murphy -and Jaffe, by extension – perpetuate the fear mongering that persons with schizophrenia are to be feared because they are dangerous.

In this article Mr. Jaffe writes:

But what about the others? The effect of Mental Illness Awareness Week is to divert attention away from the 3%-5% of Americans who are the most seriously mentally ill–like those suffering from schizophrenia or treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, the very mentally ill people who are not “like you and me” and need our help the most.

FACT: I think many persons with schizophrenia who are  aware of their illness and symptoms would disagree – they would say they ARE like us, they DO face stigma, and that they CAN and DO participate in their own care. People like Elyn Saks, John Nash, Meera Popkin, Tom Harrell.

On his Treatment Advocacy Center website, Mr. Jaffe asserts:

Schizophrenia interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others.

FACT: When psychotic? Yes.  Absolutely.  But can a person experiencing positive and/or negative symptoms still relate to others?  Still make decisions about their care? Still think clearly enough to contribute to their care? Yes. Absolutely.  Schizophrenia is linear.  The appearance and severity of symptoms is not.

Here, Dr. Fuller Torrey insinuates that if Connecticut had stronger AOT laws, Newtown might not have happened:

While it isn’t yet known whether Lanza was being treated, it is known that Connecticut is among the worst states to seek such treatment. It has among the weakest involuntary treatment laws and is one of only six states that doesn’t have a law permitting court-ordered “assisted outpatient treatment.” In study after study, AOT has been shown to decrease re-hospitalizations, incarcerations and, most importantly, episodes of violence among severely mentally ill individuals.

FACT: AOT laws would NEVER have stopped Adam Lanza, because the basic tenet of AOT law is that one must be, at minimum, arrested for a crime before the AOT statute kicks in.  Just more fear mongering, with half-truths.

So, Mr. Jaffe, Dr. Torrey, you are guilty of exactly what you preach.  You disregard 50% of persons with severe mental illness.  They aren’t allowed in your conversation. Unless you start thinking holistically about how we need to service and support 100% of persons with severe mental illness, you will never be able to move the 50% you advocate for into the 50% you disregard.  And, after all, isn’t that the point?

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