Helping Parents, Families, & Caregivers

Violence and severe or untreated mental illness: Does it exist?

Former hospital buildings, Weston under Wether...
Former hospital buildings, Weston under Wetherley – geograph.org.uk – 1566302 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have one question for you: Do you have to be a monster if you are attempting to understand the potential link between a long psychiatric history and violent outbursts? Are we that sensitive to stigma that we are willing to undermine our intelligence and stop investigating a link between the two? If so, we aren’t good thinkers.

The origin of mental illness has long been debated and how to define mental illness still hangs in the air among multiple professionals in the field. We have no idea (most of the time) what to define mental illness as and we have no idea what our “research” is actually saying (in many cases). For most professionals, there is an engagement in trial and error, hypothesis testing, and guess work. In some clinics, patients and their loved ones are at the mercy of guessing therapists (some with years of experience and others with very little experience). The guess work usually comes in the form of “walking the thin line” and making statements such as “we’re not entirely sure what causes it but it does exist,” or “we’re not sure what it is, but we are going to treat it like depression with medication and therapy.” Of course, this is not the entire field of mental health. But in some sectors, this is exactly how the field thrives.

Some families are fed up with this type of “treatment” and covering of the real problem. The real problem is that psychiatry is slowly losing its appeal, scientific rigor, and popular effects because of its strong association with pharmaceutical companies, lack of true research, and the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). A diagnosis of “Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder” makes a mockery of true professionals. Even without the DSM, we face the burden of trying to convince society that psychiatry has the answers or can one day find the answers.

But for many parents, families, and caregivers, finding answers is a long way off because no one is open to conducting the appropriate research needed to find the answers. In an attempt to downplay unfavorable associations, psychiatry focuses primarily on what society desires to focus on (relationships, stigma, social equality, medication, therapy, etc). We have yet to focus our efforts on identifying treatment methods for individual patients who are too severe to understand they are severe. What do we do about the inmates who are imprisoned because of their mental health problems? What do we do about the homeless sibling or father who refuses to find shelter because his schizophrenia says he should remain outside? What do we do about the child with severe depression who opens fire on his fellow-classmates and then turns it on himself because he’s sick of being alive and asking for help? What do we do about the young man isolated in his home contemplating jumping off the nearest bridge? There are no answers for these cases because we ponder them rarely. Of course, again, this does not characterize the majority. But for those it does, we must pay attention.

It wasn’t until I opened my mind to the potential connection between violence and severe or untreated mental illness that I learned about a case involving Fred Pisano, a man with paranoid schizophrenia who murdered his mother after she asked him to turn down his music in the house. If it wasn’t enough that he murdered his mother, he became a repeat offender, assaulting a therapist and case manager and returning to jail and mental health hospitals multiple times.

Although the connection between violence and severe or untreated mental illness is said to be small, how could these tragedies involving mental illness be mere coincidence? If you think about it, a mere coincidence only happens on a chance basis, not repeatedly throughout history.

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To learn more about this case, visit: http://articles.philly.com/1989-09-11/news/26103506_1_community-mental-health-system-group-homes-death. For a jury verdict overview, visit: http://www.jvra.com/verdict_trak/article.aspx?id=40324.

My only plea is that you open your mind and despite how “painful” the reality may be, we have to research this connection. Not to is to be self-serving and careless with our lives and those of future generations.

   
As always, I wish you well
Tàmara 
 
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