Friday, June 27, 2008

When Medicine Got it Wrong

The title makes you stop and think. The pause makes you wonder. When did it happen? Who was the patient? Who was the doctor? What was the disease? It wasn’t one patient. It was essentially everyone who had schizophrenia. While reminiscent of the witch trials, it wasn’t in the 1600s it was the 1970s.

When Medicine Got it Wrong, is the title of an upcoming PBS documentary by filmmakers Katie Cadigan and Laura Murray. It is the story of how parents in San Mateo County, Calif. banded together to fight the notion that schizophrenia was the result of bad parenting. In the early 1970s this activism coincided with the closing down of psychiatric hospitals. The film explores this well-intentioned bit of social planning gone amok.

“It was a fabulous dream,” says Cadigan, who has a brother with schizophrenia. “The problem is, when they shut down the hospitals, there was the promise that community care would be set up. That care was never set up. So the sickest of the sick—young men and women with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder—ended up being flushed out of the system with no care, no medication, no doctors available, no treatment programs that would take them.”

Add deinstitutionalization to the widespread blaming of parents by psychiatry and that brings us to today. People with a disease are out on the streets and in jails, instead of receiving treatment. Those working with the Treatment Advocacy Center and others need to understand this important underpinning to today’s commitment laws. Trying to write a wrong, no matter how well intentioned, is not an easy task. The story behind When Medicine Got it Wrong will provide inspiration or this decade’s unfinished work. Stay tuned for more information on when this important film will air.