Schizophrenia from the Point of View of an Emergency Clinician

12 Nov 2020

Submitted by David E. Geiger, MEE, PE

I met Lynn Nanos, LICSW (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker) through my website. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the author of Breakdown: A Clinician’s Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry where she describes and summarizes her experiences as an emergency psychiatric clinician. I believe her book and mine complement each other. What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 18 “Stigma and Antipsychiatry.”

Stigma toward mental illness embodies the belief that the mentally ill person caused her illness. It associates mental illness with shame, infamy, and disgrace. How much stigma exists toward mental illness? It is difficult to measure. Organizations that advocate for the mentally ill population, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), appear to overemphasize stigma. They portray it as a massive problem and urgently promote campaigns to eradicate it. But is stigma less problematic than the media and certain organizations make it out to be? Is NAMI’s claims about the extent of stigma a myth?

It is antiquated to apply shame to mental illness… It is now uniformly understood in all scientific areas that serious mental illness originates in the brain. The brain is just as much a physical and tangible organ as the liver, heart, and stomach. Leading research demonstrates that the greatest risk factor for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia lies in genetics, which confirms that serious mental illness is biological in origin…

The belief that mental illness doesn’t exist and that medication is largely unhelpful runs amok throughout government-funded programs. In Massachusetts, the Recovery Learning Communities (RLCs) are groups largely dominated by peer specialists who endorse the possibility that signs of psychosis are normal. Besides running Reiki sessions that seem frivolous because no scientific evidence shows their effectiveness, the groups regularly lead classes titled “Hearing Voices” for their members. They advertise that “Hearing Voices groups do not pathologize the experience of hearing voices or experiencing other altered/extreme states. Instead, they ask, ‘What does the experience mean to you?’”

To pathologize a human experience is to view it as abnormal. Hearing voices that do not exist is certainly not normal. If an impressionable person in her early twenties is experiencing auditory hallucinations for the first time that involve commands to kill herself or someone else, and she attends one of these classes, the chance that she will seek appropriate treatment is reduced if she comes to believe that nothing abnormal is going on…

To read the full article, access David Geiger’s blog at www.davidegeiger.com/blog.

David Geiger is a licensed and awarded electrical engineer who spent 7 years in psychiatric hospitals and over 40 years since 1979 in the courts as a result of his schizophrenia.

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