I am discouraged of late that schizophrenia isn’t getting the press it deserves. More people (1 in a 100) have schizophrenia than autism (now 1 in 150), though autism seems to be catching up fast. Autism is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term “infantile autism” was coined by Dr. Leo Kanner in the 1930s. Schizophrenia has been around since the dawn of time.
Schizophrenia has built-in problems that might prevent it getting a full campaign à la Jenny McCarthy’s with autism. Schizophrenia occurs in adults. Autism attracts attention because it happens to children (and yes, it is a devastating problem). Money pours into children’s causes. Adults, let’s face it, are a harder sell. Another problem: Nobody wants to admit publicly to having schizophrenia. Better to be bipolar. Bipolar seems to be enjoying a wave of popularity right now, right up there with depression. The distinctions between bipolar and schizophrenia are artificial and tend to fold into each other over time. The drugs to treat them are the same. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear rumours that Britney is bipolar. Schizophrenia is a career killer. Britney is still out there and trying her best, even if she has her off days.
Where is the outrage? Schizophrenia has a natural recovery rate of 30%. Imagine that a little dedicated effort could double that rate and make recovery happen sooner. By dedicated effort I do not mean more meds. I mean less meds or no meds. My celebrity would endorse a holistic approach to health and talk openly about helping people to help themselves. My celebrity would speak about the value of vitamins, diet, family support, love, and provide a more balanced view of the role of medications than what we have been hearing up until now. I would love it if a little pill could cure our ills without creating more problems, but I gave up on that fantasy a long time ago. The real discrimination in schizophrenia is that people are not being helped to get better in bigger numbers sooner. Mentally ill people will have limited access to employment and other opportunities many of us take for granted as long as they remain mentally ill.
Jenny McCarthy was outraged. She did something about it. I read her book Louder Than Words. I was turned off at first. She throws four letter words around like rice at a wedding. This detracts from her message. But I looked past that and I realized that she was absolutely right to be outraged and to not accept the bleak prognosis her son was handed. She did her homework and she got going. So did the gay rights lobby. Back in 1973, homosexuality was dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness. Psychiatrists were not at all happy about that because they still considered homosexuality a mental illness. But they could not withstand the onslaught of the gay rights movement picketing their offices and conventions. A mental illness wiped out by the stroke of a pen. The success of the gay rights lobby raises interesting questions about the nature of mental illness and of how it is determined and it shows what outrage will do.