I find it surprising that 60 Minutes, which has a history of serious investigative journalism, would do such a slipshod job on the segment ‘starring’ E. Fuller Torrey.
The producers apparently saw no reason to include the fact that people diagnosed with schizophrenia can and do recover. Significantly, a decades-long study by the World Health Organization found that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia usually do better in countries in the developing world – such as India, Nigeria and Colombia – than they do in such Western nations as Denmark, England and the United States. According to an analysis of results, “Patients in developing countries experienced significantly longer periods of unimpaired functioning in the community, although only 16% of them were on continuous antipsychotic medication (compared with 61% in the developed countries) … The sobering experience of high rates of chronic disability and dependency associated with schizophrenia in high-income countries, despite access to costly biomedical treatment, suggests that something essential to recovery is missing in the social fabric.”
Nor did they include any information about initiatives such as the Hearing Voices movement, which successfully helps people learn to cope effectively with the experience of hearing voices.
In a small British pilot study, 16 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia were able to control their auditory hallucinations with an experimental treatment called “avatar therapy.” The treatment involves creating a computer-based representation – including a face and a voice – of the entity they believe is talking to them. The individual’s therapist is then able to speak through the avatar, encouraging the individual to counter the voice and to take control of the hallucinations. Three of the 16 people who participated in the study completely stopped hearing their voices as a result of the therapy, and almost all of the participants reported a reduction in frequency and in the severity of distress the voices caused, according to a published report. Because of the pilot’s success, The Wellcome Trust will fund a larger study, to be led by researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry. Thomas Craig, the psychiatrist who will lead the larger trial, said that if the study is successful, the therapy could be widely available within a few years.
Although Dr. Torrey believes that individuals diagnosed with mental health conditions should be force-medicated if they refuse to take medication voluntarily, journalist Robert Whitaker shows that medication contributes to chronicity. In the era that followed the introduction of Thorazine in 1955 there has been an exponential rise in the numbers of individuals disabled by mental health disorders, he reports in his book “Anatomy of an Epidemic.” Whitaker told Behavioral Healthcare, “… [U]nfortunately I’m afraid psychiatry no longer knows how to get back on track with honest reporting of what it does and does not know, and honest investigations of psychiatric medications … Ultimately, I think we need a new paradigm built on the framework of psychosocial and recovery practices.”
The “60 Minutes” producers made a serious error in relying upon Dr. E. Fuller Torrey as its main source. Torrey admits to fabricating “evidence” to further his goal of making it easier to lock up people who have psychiatric diagnoses. Toward this end, he has for years engaged in “an intensive public relations campaign linking mental illness with violence.”
To the contrary, according to a NY Times article, only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.” And the 4 percent statistic is about violence of any kind – which, according to the study cited, would include something as relatively innocuous as threatening behavior – as opposed to just homicides. Also, since the fears of the general public largely focus on strangers with mental health conditions, it is significant to report another study, which estimated that there is only one stranger homicide per 14.3 million people per year.
60 Minutes should do a follow-up piece in which it strives for accuracy, as opposed to sensationalism.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.