Monday, October 21, 2013

E. Fuller Torrey's "American Psychosis"

E. Fuller Torrey is Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, MD, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, and Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Torrey applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Psychosis begins with the story of Herbert Mullin who, in 1972, killed 13 people in a three-month period in Santa Cruz, California. Mullin suffered from schizophrenia and carried out the killings in response to his auditory hallucinations. Prior to the killings, Mullin had been hospitalized three times but then discharged with no further treatment or follow-up. As such, Mullin is representative of America’s failed mental illness treatment system and also representative of the story being told in American Psychosis.

People with severe mental illnesses who are not being treated, like Mullin, are responsible for ten percent of all American homicides but about half of all mass killings – Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Washington Navy Yard, etc. People with severe mental illnesses who are not being treated also occupy approximately twenty percent of all jail and prison cells in the United States, and constitute about one-third of the homeless. Such people have also colonized public parks, public libraries, and train and bus stations.

American Psychosis is the story of how all of this came about. It opens with the saga of Rosemary Kennedy, originally only mildly retarded. However, when she then developed symptoms of psychosis as a young woman, her father had a lobotomy done on her; this left her profoundly retarded and was the single biggest tragedy to befall the Kennedy family. When her brother Jack later was elected President, the Kennedys vowed to honor Rosemary by implementing federal legislation for programs on mental illness and mental retardation.

This legislation included the Community Mental Health Centers program – poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented. The book details how this program failed from its inception and ultimately led to the failed public mental illness treatment system that exists today. The book closes with a chapter describing what needs to be done to fix the badly broken system.

The implementation of the federal Community Mental Health Centers program took place in 1963, exactly 50 years ago. American Psychosis is the history of the subsequent disaster, a disaster that is ongoing.
Learn more about American Psychosis at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue