Why the Stakes Are So High
(March 21, 2013) Among the critical contributions we make to mental illness policy reform is testifying in support of pending legislation that would make treatment possible for more individuals in psychiatric crisis.
The following excerpt from testimony delivered this week by Policy Director Brian Stettin relates to a bill pending in Maryland that would improve the inpatient commitment standard. The case he makes, however, is relevant to public policies that affect individuals and families living with untreated severe mental illness from coast to coast.
First and foremost, I would like to point out why the stakes are so high for the families here today and the thousands of Marylanders they represent.
These families are keenly aware of the enormous strides that medical science has made in recent decades to offer real hope of recovery to people with severe mental illness. The key, of course, is to get those individuals under medical treatment.
We know, for example, that people who are receiving treatment for a severe mental illness are no more likely to engage in violence than anyone else and that treatment is the key to maintaining strong bonds with friends and family, as well as to avoiding hospitals and jail.
But securing that treatment for a family member in psychiatric crisis can be harrowingly difficult. A primary reason for that is anosognosia, a symptom of brain dysfunction which afflicts many – though by no means all – people with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. A person with anosognosia is simply unable to recognize his own illness – no matter how painfully obvious it may be to everyone around him. The person is convinced to the core that he is perfectly fine. And so, quite naturally, he rejects all efforts to get him into treatment.
That is what the families here today are grappling with – watching the people they love fall apart, truly unable to seek voluntary help or accept it when offered, because their diseases prevent them from seeing that anything is amiss. Which, I hasten to add, is not to say that they are perfectly happy in their current condition. On the contrary, many lead lives of daily torment, with no way to escape terrifying delusions.
And so at some point, we as a society must decide what we’re going to do: either leave the person to face the consequences of that “choice” to refuse treatment or to override that “choice,” as we might hope others would do for us if we were to come untethered from reality.
And this is where Maryland’s civil commitment law comes into the picture.
This is where every state’s civil commitment laws come into the picture. Advocates anywhere are encouraged to adapt the message for their own use in promoting treatment law reform and implementation.
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