RIP Dr Fred Frese

By Marvin Ross

The world just lost another advocate for serious mental illness. Dr Fred Frese was a psychologist with schizophrenia and an active promoter of better care for the seriously mentally ill. He had been a board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and one of the founders (along with Dr E Fuller Torrey) of the Treatment Advocacy Center.

I met Fred, and his wife Penny, when they gave a talk at the Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia in the late 1990s and did a profile of them for one of the medical papers that I wrote for. Both of them were incredible speakers. Fred first got sick when he was an officer in the US Marine Corps guarding the largest repository of nuclear weapons in the US.

He became quite paranoid and was eventually transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington where, he said, may of his fellow psychiatric inmates were high ranking officers. While a patient there and elsewhere, he pursued his education and obtained a PhD in psychology. He joked that he went from being an involuntary patient in one hospital in Ohio to becoming its chief psychologist years later.

He commented that he continued to study because people with mental illness simply cannot find work. His sense of humour was evident when he talked about dating his wife. They had gone for a long walk in the woods and it was then that he decided to tell her that he had paranoid schizophrenia. Not the best place to do that, he commented. She did not run off screaming, they married and had four children.

Dr Frese has always been a strong supporter of involuntary treatment when it is necessary (as it often is) and for the fair treatment of those who are ill.

He explains his position in this presentation below:

As he said in the video clip below, he refuses to be ashamed of his illness and that he is not recovered (despite all his credentials) but is in recovery.

I should also mention that Fred was very generous with his time and was an active supporter of the late Dr Carolyn Dobbins (another psychologist with schizophrenia) and was gracious enough to write a very good blurb for Katherine Flannery Dering’s book, Shot in the Head.

Those of us who advocate for improved services for the mentally ill will have to step up our efforts to make up for Fred’s loss.

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7 thoughts on “RIP Dr Fred Frese

  1. Thank you Marvin for this eloquent tribute to an amazing man. Schizophrenia is rarely mentioned these days,. CAMH ‘s revised edition of their schizophrenia guide is to schizophrenia what Kraft slices are to cheese.. ( Sad from such an outstanding institution).
    Marvin’s book: :Schizophrenia : medicine’s mystery, Society’s shame, and the SSO’s long out of print ” Rays of Hope are well worth reading ..

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  2. I met Dr. Frese and heard him speak in Casper, Wyoming five or six years ago. It was the 50th state in which he spoke on behalf of families dealing with serious mental illness.
    Dr. Frese was truly a friend and advocate for all of us with such illnesses and a great person to engage in conversation with.
    It is very sad to hear of his passing.

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  3. I met Dr. Frese and heard him speak in Casper, Wyoming five or six years ago. It was the 50th state in which he spoke on behalf of families dealing with serious mental illness.
    Dr. Frese was truly a friend and advocate for all of us with such illnesses and a great person to engage in conversation with.
    It is very sad to hear of his passing.

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  4. Thank you for this Marvin Clearly he made a great contribution and spoke honestly and very clearly.

    My good friend Doug Rigsby, a lawyer who was afflicted with schizophrenia also died this year. He also spent a lot of time speaking quietly and firmly about the need for involuntary treatment being necessary when a person is trapped in a psychosis. Doug made a big contribution in that he spent time talking to psychology students at Queens University so that they might better understood the nature of schizophrenia. One of his last speeches was to the Kingston Canadian Club . He was given a standing ovation. He was a gentleman, friend and very kind.

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  5. Dr. Frese and his wife both spoke at a NAMI conference in Pa. and I was hoping to meet him again.They were both so insightful and giving me hope, since schizophrenia afflicts someone in my family. Fred Frese is deeply missed !

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