Monday, September 30, 2013

"60 Minutes" Focuses on Schizophrenia and Violence

Yesterday evening, the CBS television program "60 Minutes" gave extensive exposure to the issue of how recent mass shootings in the U.S. appear to be preventable tragedies—symptoms of a seriously flawed mental health system. Correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed two experts on the subject—Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., president of APA and chair of psychiatry at Columbia University, and E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. Several individuals with schizophrenia as well as their relatives were also interviewed.

Several major points emerged from the segment, including that schizophrenia is a brain illness. Lieberman documented this knowledge with brain images showing changes in the brains of people with schizophrenia. He also explained that the illness, which "usually emerges in late adolescence and early adulthood, affecting perception and judgment," may cause a person to hear voices, among other symptoms. In the worst cases, people with auditory hallucinations "can't distinguish the voices from their illness, and they think the voices are part of them, and if they tell them what to do, they'll follow it."

Another point made was that there are effective treatments for the hallucinations that individuals with schizophrenia experience, but not all of those individuals have access to such treatments. In other cases, they won't acknowledge their illness and thus refuse treatment. Some untreated individuals with schizophrenia occasionally listen to their "voices" telling them to commit violence.

However, both Lieberman and Torrey emphasized that the vast majority of individuals with schizophrenia do not commit violence. They are the ones who suffer the most from their illness. And the tragic fact is that many people with serious mental illness are not receiving treatment in the community and end up in jails and prisons. For example, the Cook County Jail in Chicago contains thousands of mentally ill inmates, and its director said that it is the largest mental health facility in the country.

Click here to view the "60 Minutes" segment.


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