Addendum to Belief Systems, Mad in America and Anti-psychiatry

By Dr David Laing Dawson and Marvin Ross

Reading the comments to this blog and others of ours, there is a lot of a-historic and naive thinking. Recently, someone posted my Huffington Post blog on Open Dialogue in Finland to the Spotlight on Mental Health group set up by the Boston Globe to foster discussion of their series on the sad state of mental illness treatment and care in Massachusetts. One person criticized it claiming that I had no right to comment because I have never been to Finland, and the Finnish psychiatrist I quoted had no right to be critical because he had never been to Lapland. This is part of what that person said:

That paper by Marvin Ross is written around totally wrong information:

1) Marvin Ross has never been to Lapland to check what he wrote; thus he does not know what he speaks about…

2) The psychiatrist whom he telephoned in Helsinki, i.e. some 800 km from Lapland, had never been either…How she knew any of that I do not know.

One person commented on this blog that 10 times as many people diagnosed with schizophrenia die in the first year post diagnosis than 100 years ago and that olanzapine has killed 200,000 people worldwide.

Taking data from a number of public sources, Dr. Dawson put these statistics together:

Some American Statistics


Total population: 50,000,000

A total of 91,959 “insane persons” were identified, of which 41,083 were living at home, 40,942 were in “hospitals and asylums for the insane,” 9,302 were in almshouses, and only 397 were in jails. The total number of prisoners in all jails and prisons was 58,609, so that severely mentally ill inmates constituted only 0.7 percent of the population of jails and prisons.

Average Life expectancy for entire population: low 40’s for whites

Low 30’s for blacks


2016 total population: 324,000,000

Average life expectancy: men 76, women 81 (lower than Canada and most of Europe, lower still for minority groups. Much of this improvement from 1880 by preventing childhood diseases.)

U. S. Prison population : 2,200,000 (2014)

Or 716 per 100,000 American citizens are in prison. (a seven fold increase from 1880)

Mentally ill in prison estimated/measured to be 30% to over 50%

So 700,000 to over one million mentally ill are incarcerated in US prisons.

Incarceration in jail reduces life expectancy by roughly a factor of 10 years for every 5 years incarcerated. (all inmates)

Estimates/measurements of homeless in the USA:  1.5 to 2 million.

Estimates of homeless mentally ill range from 30% to over 50%.

So 500,000 to one million mentally ill are either homeless or living in shelters.

The homeless mentally ill are not receiving consistent psychiatric treatment. The incarcerated mentally ill may be receiving some limited treatment.

Adding this up:

One to two million mentally ill people are either homeless or  incarcerated in prison in the USA.

A high proportion of people with severe mental illness live in poverty.

Severe mental illness without treatment confers higher risks and co-morbidities for several serious diseases, such as cardio vascular disease. People with severe mental illness have a much higher risk of cigarette smoking and poor diet.

Untreated depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia confer a much higher risk of suicide.

Homelessness and incarceration in and of itself reduces life expectancy by a considerable number of years. Neither of these groups is consistently receiving psychiatric treatment.

Psychiatric drugs do have side effects. (as do all pharmaceuticals) In a good outpatient or inpatient facility these can be monitored and treatment adjusted in partnership with patients.

But the real causes of contemporary poor life expectancy of the seriously mentally ill can be found in:

  • The illness itself untreated
  • Reduction and closing of hospitals.
  • Incarceration in jails and prisons
  • Poor or no housing. Homelessness
  • Poverty
  • Poor diet. Illicit drug use. Smoking.
  • Stigma leading to isolation and victimization
  • Poor, inadequate, or limited health care
  • Absence of good consistent psychiatric treatment.

And the overall cost of not providing good early consistent psychiatric treatment in both inpatient and outpatient facilities is calculated in the following article:

5 thoughts on “Addendum to Belief Systems, Mad in America and Anti-psychiatry

  1. I love this because it is a brief, targeted compendium without a lot of filler. I am going to copy this and use it frequently. Great work and thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The lack of subsidised housing for people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar illness remains very upsetting to me. The mental disability by no means is near enough to help with housing costs, ie rent of a small apartment or basement suite. There are bits and pieces of subsidies and short term housing options and then there is no where to go as the rent costs are far to high. Many of these people also have great difficulty working to the $800 max (over the disability allotment) in British Columbia due the very nature of their illness. This inability to work is a huge stigma, with ramifications for these individuals that is one of the greatest tragedies. This is extremely hard to understand for the lay person with little or no knowledge of these illnesses. The government and individuals need to help these people who end up on the street due to no fault of their own. They can’t just “smarten up” and get to work…their brain does not work that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mr. Ross and Mr. Dawson, locked psychiatric hospitals ARE prisons. The only difference between the two is that prisons lock up ACTUAL CRIMINALS. So, the prison/hospital dichotomy is really just a way for you two to shield yourselves from the stigma of admitting that you want to commit a FELONY — the wrongful imprisonment of Mad people.


  4. These figures lead to the next obvious question: why have we not created a massive system of well funded scientific brain research to rid the world of insidious neurological diseases like schizophrenia, depression, autism, clinical anxiety and the myriad of other chronic diseases of human brains?

    We quickly leapt to fight Ebola, Aids (and Zika has gotten our attention). But we continue to believe that social science and talk therapy can defeat the biological root causes of human brain diseases.

    It is time to wake up by bringing scientific research to find a cure for all brain diseases.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article with startling stats. When is society going start treating SMI like other biological illnesses? My loved one has presented at emergency, asking for treatment, and been turned away. Even when very ill, sometimes they know they need help. It is inhumane not to treat them. They are truly society’s most vulnerable and fragile people.


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