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The challenges of mental illness

January 03, 2008

Re "Schizophrenia takes a daughter away," Column One, Dec. 29

Schizophrenia is one of the most devastating illnesses, and inadequate research funds, inadequate facilities and inadequate insurance programs -- not to mention frank discrimination against people with mental illness and those who treat them -- don't help. People need to know that hope exists, even in the most desperate cases, but supportive families and money for quality care are important if we are ever to win the war on mental illness.

Marc Graff MD

President-elect

California Psychiatric

Assn., Reseda

Schizophrenia is not a disease, but a complex and confusing umbrella term covering a multitude of factors and varying etiologies.

Diagnostic terminology changes rapidly, and it is often politicized. In this age, it is to the bottom-line benefit of large pharmaceutical companies and medical insurance plans to consider all emotional problems of living as a "disease" to be treated by drugs.

The very fact that this young woman was treated at 11 places in four years speaks for the worst of healthcare. Such a conflicted person needs constancy of care by a highly trained and devoted professional, not cocktails of drugs and confinement in a series of prison-like hospitals. All of this takes money, and we must be willing to pay for the skilled care required.

We are working with troubled human beings, not "diseased" ones. Your story would convey this better had the writers understood that mental disorders, however severe, are not diseases but the outcome of many conditions -- personal, family, societal and in some cases, yes, biological. How they interact is still not well understood.

Bernard Landis

Los Angeles

The writer, a clinical psychologist and a retired professor of psychology at the Cornell University Medical College in New York, recently was a visiting professor of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Too bad that this family has had to cope with their daughter's illness alone because there is a lack of coordinated care to assist them. It is a blot on all of us that the mentally ill are still regarded with stigma. There is so much hope, but families need support and more resources. Surely a nation that can reach the moon can research more effective treatments for a health problem that afflicts so many. There is a need for outpatient programs to assist the mentally ill to live independently, as was proposed in the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The funds to support this law were diverted to other uses and never replaced.

So much needs to be done. Prisons have become holding tanks for the mentally ill. The streets are riddled with the homeless mentally ill. Families are often alone to cope with this disease. Why?

Carol Kanode

Huntington Beach

The writer is a registered nurse.

I'm sitting here overwhelmed and filled with questions. Where is the communication and respect between doctors, mental health facilities, the patients and their advocates? What is a patient's responsibility in getting healthy? How do we help the patients and their advocates get information and access to effective treatments without them having to go through hell to find it?

What I don't question after reading this story is the incredible toll mental illness takes on the whole family. I have newfound respect and compassion for people who deal with it on a daily basis.

Kandis Carlson

Huntington Beach

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