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JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A SERIES IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

I do wish that we could wave a magic wand to eliminate the plague of mental illness, but I know perfectly well that we cannot.

We have no good answers for most of the severe forms. All the various non-drug treatments are ineffective on the severe mental illnesses, which are all the result of glitches in the body’s most complex organ, the brain.

Actually, we still suffer a lot of mumbo-jumbo myths around various psychotherapies, the practices of the same people who forty years ago told families that schizophrenia was due to overbearing mothers, sending already-victim families into waves of ignorant guilt.

Schizophrenia is in many ways more tragic than brain cancer. It destroys whole families. It is what sends all the most pitiful street people out onto the streets.

But the medications we have for schizophrenia have major problems. First, many schizophrenics have intense paranoid fears. They actually fear efforts to help them. That is why many refuse to go to shelters.

Second, the drugs themselves are partly ineffective and can be quite dangerous in some cases. In other cases, they turn some schizophrenics into pathetic foggy zombies.

How do you control a paranoid person taking his/her medication? You cannot without imprisoning them in institutions as we did forty years ago, something which is unacceptable in a free society.

Despite our pride and arrogance about our science, the truth is our abilities with mental illness remain fairly primitive. We just do not know enough. So I find it difficult to see any immediate light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

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