What happened to Jake?
Seven years after being hospitalized in a psych ward, my brilliant, funny, sensitive, artistic, shining star of a son died as a homeless person after being struck by an Amtrak train in Santa Barbara.
Impossible, sickening, and yet it happened.
I can remember when he was a newly minted mental patient, admitted to OSU’s psych ward at age 21. I and some of Jake’s other supporters were consulting with the people in white coats about his prognosis which was, in their estimation, either grim or grimmer. They did not want to give us any hope for his recovery. In frustration and wanting to inject some hope into the discussion, my long-time friend Drew, who had known Jake since he was two and had come to the psych ward out of love and caring, said, “Couldn’t it be that Jake has simply had a good old-fashioned nervous breakdown?” The resident snapped back, “There’s no such thing.”
Really. And why not?
What I have learned in the time since Jake’s death is that despite what mainstream psychiatry likes to purport, people recover from psychotic disorders all the time, all over the world. I have met many of these survivors personally. I have also been told by a psychiatrist/former schizophrenia patient that one of the worst places you can take a psychotic young person for help is the psych ward of a teaching hospital, which unfortunately was precisely where Jake landed.
If, when Jake had his crisis, we had lived in northern Finland, where psychosis is treated in a radically hopeful way, he would likely not only be alive today, but also thriving. Sadly, we were living in the U.S., where young people who experience psychosis are told that they have some sort of debilitating brain disease for which there is no cure. What could be more hopeless?
But let me inject some hope back into this story. In the past few years, I have met dozens of people who have fully recovered from “psychotic disorders.” All of them had to break away from mainstream psychiatry in order to find wholeness and healing.
In a 2005 interview for MedScape, former schizophrenia patient Daniel B. Fisher MD, PhD, was asked about his own journey of recovery from schizophrenia. He said,
“I was lucky — I was able to find a psychiatrist who was able to provide me with many of the principles we find have worked in recovery. He believed in me. When I told him, several months after coming out of the hospital the second time with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, that I wanted to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist, he said he would be at my medical school graduation. And about 7 years later, he was there.”
In a 2009 interview for the U.K.’s Independent, former schizophrenia patient Eleanor Longden stated,
“My original psychiatrist told me I would have been better off with cancer because it was easier to cure. She still says that to people. What happened to me was catastrophic, and I survived only because of luck. If I had lived one street to the right, I wouldn’t have been referred to [innovative psychiatrist] Pat Bracken. That can’t be how people’s lives are determined.”
And so, dear reader, have you noticed the common ingredient in these two remarkable recovery stories?
For way too many people diagnosed with psychotic disorders, recovery depends on luck. We need to remove luck from this equation and replace it with faith and hope and the truth about the real possibility for wholeness and wellness, so that we don’t have to rely on dumb luck. In 2010 I gave a talk for TEDx Columbus about innovative psychiatrists who have successfully helped people overcome psychotic disorders. A link to that talk is provided here on Rossa’s blog. We as a society must demand a new paradigm (or rather, a return to an old one) that helps the mentally and emotionally suffering to get well and stay well.
Who’s with me?
Please listen to Suzanne Beachy’s message: TedxTalks What’s Next for the Truth?
Any diagnosis of mental illness results in a complicated and uncertain fate for those it strikes. When you lose a son as a result of such a diagnosis, it ignites a search for answers. Suzanne Beachy has gained a perspective on life as a result of her loss but is still asking, what is the truth?