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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  • MentalIllnessPolicy March 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks for following me. I do have to say, most of what you write is incorrect. First of all, I am not with TAC. I understand the confusion, I was a founder, still support it's work, but am no longer on the board. Second. I don't know where you got the idea that we don't care for people with schizophrenia who are not as we describe. That's sort of like saying if you advocate to end heart disease you don't care about those with cancer. It's two different populations. We advocate for a very small group most don't care about. They are a subset of a subset of a subset…The subset of all people with mental health issues who have serious mental illness, the subset of them who do well in treatment but go off, the subset of them who when they go off treatment become danger to self or others.

  • Chrisa Hickey March 20, 2013 at 1:44 am

    Mr. Jaffe: thanks for commenting. If what I write is not how you feel, you have a serious communication issue. You preach to the public about the dangers of persons with severe mental illness. You perpetuate the stigma you deny exists. You put adult children like mine in danger by perpetrating that misperception – danger from someone who, because of your fear mongering, perceives them as dangerous because, hey, DJ Jaffe and others like him advocate for these people and keep telling me they are dangerous.

    It's nothing like heart disease and cancer. Those are two completely different illnesses. Schizophrenia is schizophrenia. The fact that you don't understand that concerns me.

  • lauren137 March 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Wow. Good to know that because I have treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, I'm "not like the rest of [humanity]." What an awful, myopic thing to say.

  • twopaul March 21, 2013 at 3:05 am

    First, schizophrenia is a name we currently apply to an unknown number of conditions that cause varying levels of impairment. Moving to the term Schizophrenia Spectrum is a small improvement in DSM V. So one person's experience is not the same as another. That's a significant part of the misunderstanding.

  • twopaul March 21, 2013 at 3:10 am

    Erika, learn more on your own about Dr. Torrey, his history, and the truly significant contributions he's made over the past 30 years. Much of what you take for granted in the services you receive is due to the forward thinking research of Torrey and others like him.

  • twopaul March 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    I also want to add that for me, the area of study that seems most promising is inflammation:


    I wish you safe travels on your journey.

  • Starlightembers March 21, 2013 at 7:04 pm


    I have done extensive research on E. Fuller Torrey, and am educated on his work. The more I research him, the more convinced I become that he is a harmful, rather than helpful, force in the mental health community.

    I noticed that you did not contest any of the statements that I have made. Each has come from that research, and is accurate and can be cited. If you think someone, or an organization, that operates that way is a positive force, I am not sure I have much I can say in response.

    As seeing I listed the specific reasons why he is a harmful force, would you mind listing the specific contributions he has made? His research has not contributed to the development of any new treatment, nor was it solely or primarily responsible for the shift in thinking towards viewing mental illness as biological. He was not involved in advocating for any of the public services I have received. I do know that his research institute has been the subject of more than one lawsuit alleging that the brains it collects had been obtained without proper consent.


  • twopaul March 21, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Erika, Back in the 70s, when illness arose in our family, psychiatrists still referred to the schizophrenigenic mother. They gave people with psychosis family systems therapy, or worse. Torrey took real risks that others weren't taking, just as he has now, to push scientific models. When I say you benefited, I didn't mean public assistance, I meant the kind of benefit that comes from the reform in psychiatry that moved us from belief-based psychological theory to a disease model, on a larger public scale. You discount his contributions in moving public discourse forward, but I lived through that time. He's been at this for many years and knows more than you or me.

    Your concerns about who would be omitted from assisted care are debatable, as laws implemented are interpreted by people, so I see lots of room for an outpatient assistance model to be refined over time. Each state has different conservatorship rules, and mine does not support Advance Directives for mental illness and actually has laws in place that block care. I am entirely convinced that you do not have enough personal experience with persistent psychosis disorders to understand what a parent goes through when they lose the ability to help their child. Time and experience may change is.

    On whether or not ill people should contribute to legislative discussions, of course they can–why not? When I say I don't care about this, what I mean is that there are many, many facets of this topic that could be explored, but it doesn't hold my interest. My preference is that the decision makers get their information from those with the most experience. Each manifestation of persistent psychosis is different, and you, for example, would not be able to repesent my family member. Tom's experience, from what Chrisa writes, bears no resemblance to the people I know who are diagnosed with schizoaffective/bipolar type (but his behaviors do sound like the PDD-NOS kids I know who have rage and psychosis in their teen years). So of course everyone should have a voice, and the listeners need open, compassionate minds. But NAMI doesn't represent my family. Maybe someday it can, but it has failed to for 30 years so I'm not holding my breath.
    So we disagree. I have heard you, but it's like discussing religion. Our belief systems just differ.

  • Chrisa Hickey March 22, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Gee, thanks for diagnosing someone you've never met. Just inches below you say schizophrenia is different for everyone, then contradict two psychiatrists, three therapists, a neuropsychologist and a host of other professionals asked on 10 minutes perusing my blog. Pardon me if I give your opinion as much consideration as I give navel lint.

  • Mark Markats March 29, 2013 at 2:27 am

    A person with severe mental illness who refuses his
    medication can not make conscious decision – they are too sick to comprehend this and as result become homeless, incarcerated, suffer unspeakable abuse and become a danger to themselves, their family and community. My 11 year old son would be
    alive today if the man who murdered him (and his own mother) did not refuse his medications – now he is incarcerated, receiving his medication in jail and comprehends what he is done and no longer a treat, BUT my child and his mother are gone forever!

    AOT is not a guarantee that these types of crimes will be prevented 100% – nothing in life is guaranteed 100% – but it’s a first step in helping these people and preventing any more possible tragedies.
    I wish you all the best!