I Still Believe Most Of Us Are Good, but …

I was horrified to read that two of the six policemen that beat a man with schizophrenia so badly that he died have been found not guilty. Perhaps some of you have heard of the case (Southern Calif.) since it’s been in the national news for months. Yesterday I played the video posted on CNN’s website and regretted it immediately. In it the now deceased man is crying, “Daddy, they are killing me.” It was so sad. They may as well have been beating a defenseless stray cat or dog. I thought the police were there to protect the vulnerable–obviously that didn’t happen here. I hope the US Dept. of Justice looks into this and I am sure mental-health advocates in S. Calif. won’t let the matter drop either.

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Pit bulls and Mental Illness

What’s the connection? Not much, except for two possibilities: both are misunderstood and feared. Up until the 1930’s, pit bulls were associated with kids. (Remember the Our Gang series or the mascot for Buster Brown shoes? Both were pit bulls.) Because pit bulls are a strong, intelligent breed with thick chests, big heads, and well-defined, muscled necks, they were used as working dogs, particularly in herding. But because of the fierce way they look, they were also misused and thrown into pits (according to one source) with “riled-up” bulls of the bovine kind, where spectators would place bets, to see which species survived. Today when “dog-bites-man” attacks are reported in newspapers, they are often by pit bulls. Whether the news is slanted or the so-called facts are true, I can’t say (not being an expert on dogs), but according to one animal rights group, the general public’s perception is tantamount to “canine racism.”

As for mental illness, those of us with it, or working in the field, are well aware of the stigma. Part of the problem is due to lack of care and misplaced fear. When hospitals began closing in the 1960’s, money was supposed to be transferred to local community centers. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so that jails and prisons have become the new “asylums.” With treatment, people with MI are no more dangerous than those without it, but those not treated have a higher rate of committing crimes, at least, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center’s website, particularly if drugs are part of the mix. They also have a higher rate of being victimized just as pit bulls are.

So what can we do? Advocates for animals and those with mental illnesses are working to change the public’s perception, but it will take time, money, and research. As for me, I still hold out hope for the day when not only treatment will be an option but actual cures, too. Until then, the best we can do is to speak up and raise awareness, both for our animal friends, and for those we love, care for, and care about.

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Are You A “Mental Defective”?

Once a year my son gets a letter referring to him as a “mental defective.”  He has schizo-affective disorder and has been court ordered to follow treatment. He once asked me, “How do you think I feel when I get this letter?”

Horrible, I am sure since his IQ is intact.

Because of this letter, however, he is entitled to government benefits, such as monthly disability checks and federal housing. On the other hand, it deprives him of certain rights, such as free access to travel and deciding where to live.

You may have heard the term “mental defective” in the news lately. It has been brought up repeatedly due to the brouhaha over gun ownership. I understand the reasoning behind criminals and people who have been committed not owning lethal weapons. (And I personally don’t see why anyone would want to own a weapon made for the military either.) My main concern is the term “mental defective.” While I’m not a huge fan of political correctness, in his case I think the government could come up with a better phrase when referring to folks with mental illnesses. Picky person that I am, I looked up the definition of the offending word.

Defective: Having a defect or flaw; faulty; imperfect; characterized by subnormal intelligence or behavior.

Okay, my son’s behavior is sometimes odd so I guess “mental defective” is accurate enough, but the connotation is far from nice. When I think of defective, I think of something I have bought at a store, a toaster, for instance. Let’s say I bring that said toaster home and discover that it doesn’t work properly. It is broken. After cursing for ten minutes straight, I get back into my car and return it to the store for another. I can’t return my son. I’d like to cure the illness, but until that day I’ll settle for better, more humane, treatment.

Another problem I have with the term is that it is used as a noun, not an adjective. If you have cancer you are not a “cancer” but a person who has the illness. If you have heart disease you are not a “heart disease.” People with mental illnesses are not the sum total of their illness. They are just people dealing with a condition that life has thrown their way.

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Is It Normal?

When your child is born the first sentence out of your mouth is: “Is it normal?” There is relief and gratitude when they tell you yes. Then twenty years later a bomb drops at the time your child is about to begin his or her adult life. You have no time to prepare for this catastrophic disaster because you were told, after all, that your child is normal.

My son has schizo-affective disorder and recently had a conditional discharge (CD) renewed for another four years. Since he doesn’t believe he is ill (anosognosia), he went to court and argued his case before the judge. I wasn’t there, but his guardian said that my son did it respectfully, but I can also picture him telling His/Her Honor that he is no longer ill–in fact never was–and is as healthy as a horse, which is unfortunately not true. He has the classic positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia as well as the cognitive deficits. He only functions in the community thanks to the massive support he gets from the local mental-health center, for which I am grateful.

While I am relieved his CD was continued, I am saddened because his life turned out so differently from how I thought it would. I am also saddened for all the others whose lives are destroyed by mental illness and for families, too. I grieve for the unfulfilled bright futures, careers that never unfolded, marriage that failed to happen, and children they never had. Truly a loss. I wish I had more hope.

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They Just Don’t Like Us

Three years ago a clubhouse, Granite Pathways, opened in Manchester, N.H. to help people struggling with mental illnesses deal with the isolation, housing, and work issues that come with the territory, and all this without government funds. Unfortunately, a few families didn’t want such a facility in their beautiful, upscale neighborhood, feeling members would be better served in the poorer section of town. (Sound familiar?) After the clubhouse received a variance from the city’s zoning board allowing it to operate, four families sued the city, and the whole brouhaha went to the state’s Superior Court. When the judge at Superior Court ruled that GP didn’t even need a variance to begin with, these same families next appealed to the state’s Supreme Court who just sent the whole mess back to the zoning board to vote on the tangential issue of the need for a variance. Whatever they decide, it can be appealed back to the Superior Court so this can go round and round. Fortunately, GP is not spending its money. (It doesn’t have any to spare.) It is the city being sued, but I hope these families are spending big bucks on lawyers’ fees, deleting their individual accounts. You’d think they have better things to do. Meanwhile GP continues to operate. (www.granitepathways.org )

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New Research

New research links different diagnoses to same genes.

 

Mental illnesses share common DNA roots, study finds

By Maggie Fox, Senior Writer, NBC News

The biggest study yet into genetics and mental health has come up with a stunning result: The five most common mental illnesses — autism, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disease, schizophrenia and major depression — all have a common genetic root.

The finding, published in the journal Lancet on Wednesday, may eventually lead to a complete rewrite of the medical understanding of the causes of mental illness.

“We have been able to discover specific genetic variants that seem to overlap among disorders that we think of as very clinically different,” Dr. Jordan Smoller of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

The study does not explain every case of psychiatric disease, the researchers stress.

“We think this is one tiny fraction of the genetic component of these disorders. They involve hundreds and possibly thousands of genes,” Smoller said.

And it didn’t show every case was related. But it demonstrated on a genetic level that the five diseases are more like a continuum of dysfunction than five separate and discrete conditions.

Smoller’s international team included dozens of researchers who looked at the genetics of more than 33,000 psychiatric patients and compared them to nearly 28,000 people without mental illness. They did what is called a genome-wide association study — a scan of all the DNA.

“We aimed to identify specific variants underlying genetic effects shared between the five disorders in the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium: autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia,” they wrote in their report.

They linked a considerable number to four places in the genome: a big stretch of chromosome 3; another part of chromsome 10, and two very specific genetic areas known to be involved in controlling cell function called calcium channels.

It wasn’t a complete surprise, Smoller says. Doctors have noted some overlap of symptoms and knew that in families prone to one psychiatric disease, another could also occur. “Autism was once known as childhood schizophrenia and the two disorders were not clearly differentiated until the 1970s,” the team wrote.

This finding could suggest that a genetic weakness upstream in the development of the brain could lead to a variety of psychiatric symptoms, perhaps influenced by other genes, or by the environment as well.

“We didn’t know going in that we would be able to find commonality with such a broad array of disorders,” Smoller said. “The fact that a particular pathway emerged as being relevant was also surprising. We didn’t know about that one before.”

Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, hopes the findings may help dispel some of the stigma that still surrounds psychiatric diseases.

“Ultimately this kind of research will give us a return in terms of social attitudes toward brain-based illness,” Dickworth said in a telephone interview. “If you can understand an illness process, it doesn’t seem so mysterious and terrifying.”

Duckworth said every psychiatrist knows of patients whose symptoms don’t clearly meet the definition of any one disease, and he noted that Sigmund Freud defined schizophrenia as a group of diseases. “This is a corner piece of the jigsaw puzzle,” he said.

And it might lead to better treatments, said Dr. Bruce Cuthbert, who is director of the National Institute of Mental Health’s division of Adult Translational Research. “We are finally starting to make inroads where we have actual physiological mechanisms that we can target,” he said. “We can really start to understand the biology instead of having to guess at it.”

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Weirdo! Weirdo! Weirdo!

We shunned the local retard at our parents’ insistence. “But, Mom, I like him.” “Sorry, sweetie, stay away.” Dumb weirdo.

A neighborhood child, post-polio, walked with a limp. No more friends. Crippled weirdo.

Daddy said I shouldn’t play with my Negro classmate. She had a brother. Dangerous weirdo.

The chronic section of the asylum housed the hopeless ones, masturbating in public. I laughed at them. Crazy weirdos.

My landlady, a nurse, turned down buying a building because a child nearby had Down Syndrome. Must be contagious. Sick weirdo.

A woman coping with residual encephalitis locked herself out of her house. No one helped. Scary weirdo.

My mentally-ill son asked a museum employee if they had sculptures inside. “No,” he lied. My son, the weirdo.

Old fogies, on a park bench, sit with nothing better to do. I’ll never be like them. Guess again. Old weirdo.

Weirdo. Weirdo. Weirdo.

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