Category Archives: Psychiatry

How to Achieve Medication Compliance

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Anosognosia is an unwieldy word meaning lack of insight, or, literally in translation, `without- disease- knowledge`.  In the case of some brain injuries or stroke the brain may become quite specifically unaware of what is missing. The part of the brain that would perceive this is damaged. With mental illness, schizophrenia, bipolar, the apparent lack of insight  or denial of obvious impairment or implausible grandiosity may be more nuanced and variable. It may be part defensive in nature; it may be more a denial of the consequences imagined; it may be more about the power relationship at hand. Some of it may be merely human, the unwillingness to give up a longstanding belief, whether that be of the second coming,  CIA surveillance and persecution, or of being chosen, special, destined for greatness.  Some of it may be a distorted form of the normally complex parent – adult child relationship.

But almost every family with a severely mentally ill member must deal with, at least once, that time when the ill member claims to be fine when obviously not, and refuses to take medication or go for an appointment to the doctor.

How to approach this. What options do you have. Below is an outline for talks I have given on the subject:

Stage 1

  • Calm and slow
  • Non-threatening (posture, position (e.g. side by side), distance, tone, pace)
  • Aim for a negotiated reality. (not the acceptance of your reality)
  • i.e. He may not be willing to admit he is ill or delusional or needs medication but may be willing to agree that he is in trouble, anxious, not well, in pain, not sleeping, and that in the past the pills have helped with that. He may by his behavior be willing to take pills or come for an appointment as long as he doesn’t have to admit to need or illness.
  • Gently find out what he or she fears.
  • Gently find out what his objections are.
  • Allay these objections and seek a “negotiated reality”.
  • Stay away from labels, declarations, and you defining his reality.
  • Offer pill with glass of water without saying anything.

Stage 2

Family intervention, same tactics as above but with whole family or available members, or a specific family member with influence.

Stage 3

Ultimatums. (You can`t live here unless…..)

But before doing this you should assess the level of risk (provoking violence, and/or leaving and putting self at risk). Discuss in family plus with a professional. Must also assess realistically your tolerance for confrontation, anxiety, worry, guilt. And ultimatums are only effective if truly meant, if you are truly willing to carry through with the ultimatum. If the ultimatum works, do not reiterate it unnecessarily.

Stage 4.

Form 1, J.P., Court order, Police intervention.

Before doing this decide on desired outcome, assess odds of achieving this desired outcome as best as possible (i.e. is there a treatment that works? Will they keep him or her long enough? Does the trauma of this kind of intervention justify the long-term outcome?)

Having decided on desired outcome, use all resources to achieve this. Learn the wording of the Mental Health act to get desired outcome. Use this wording to your advantage. Find family mental health friendly lawyer. Discuss with the health professionals who will be receiving the family member.

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Family Doctors and Psychiatric Medication

By Marvin Ross

I’ve heard this more than once but family doctors who wonder why their patient with a serious mental illness is on the psychiatric medication they are on when they seem to be fine.

And so, they suggest that the patient either go off the meds or start to taper them with, of course, disastrous outcomes. The latest case I heard was of a woman I know with stable schizophrenia who has been stable for many years. This is a woman for whom it took years to stabilize and get her to the level she is now.

The patient in question is so in favour of medication that she has been active giving lectures to health care students and other professionals on the importance of them for stability.

But then, her family doctor wondered why she was on the dose she was on. He told her that as you get older, your metabolism slows and you do not need as much medication as before. She agreed to start lowering her dose with the expected result. She slowly became more psychotic to the point where her family had to to go to court to have her hospitalized and forced back on medication.

She is now back to normal stabilized on her meds but considerable time and anguish was wasted on something that did not need to happen.

Of course, my anti-psychiatry critics will suggest that she was addicted to the medications and that her descent back into psychosis could be predicted by her body reacting to the poison that was cut off. That, of course, is nonsense. She needed the medication and when it was taken away, her illness returned. In one of his earlier blogs, Dr Dawson mentioned that when psychosis returns, the individual develops the same delusional thoughts as they originally had. That happened in this case.

Regardless of the illness, if you are on medication, you are doing well, and there are no side effects, then why mess with it. One psychiatrist I quoted in one of my writings pointed out that it is so difficult and time consuming to find the right medication at the proper dose to help a patient, why mess with it when it is found.

Unless there is a really good reason to do so, continue with your dose.

The Decline of Mental Illness Treatment from the 1980s On

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Through the 1970’s into the 1980’s I ran what we called Community Psychiatry Services. They were General Hospital based and consisted of teams of psychiatrists, nurses, social workers and psychologists. We used what we called an “Active Intake” process that ensured that the severely ill received appointments very quickly and the worried well were rerouted to other agencies. The “active” part of the intake process was a pre-appointment engagement of the patient, the family, the other caregivers. Doing this required that the clinic not become specialized, and that it did not have exclusionary criteria.

The second component necessary for this is a true team, with each member involved, the care plan decided by the team led by a psychiatrist, and that the nurses and social workers be willing to function as case managers. It also required that each member of the team be prepared to help with medication compliance and monitoring, medical care, budgeting, finding bus passes, talking to families, giving shopping lessons, helping with all activities of daily living and also counseling.

Doing this work requires a high tolerance for chaos, uncertainty, anxiety, and insanity.

What happened?

Several things I think, though it is difficult to see the forces of change while living within them.

1. The length of stay in hospitals for the mentally ill became shorter and shorter, driven at least in part by spurious management and budget ideals.

2. The mental hospitals continued to downsize, in some part as a naive ideal, but mostly as a means of shifting cost (and responsibility) from Province and State to Community and Federal Governments. (Note the stats of the Chicago area show an exact mirror image between the declining numbers in hospitals, and the inclining numbers in jails and prisons from 1970 to 2010)

3. The general Community Psychiatry Service is not a good academic career choice. Academics need to specialize for teaching and research opportunities. Hence the development of Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Clinics. This doesn’t work for the severely mentally ill because to satisfy all the research and protocol needs the waiting list is long, the assessment phase onerous.

4. Again, based on naive idealism, many community services shifted location from the hospital to the community. But once a clinic is moved away from the hospital (geographically and managerially) several things happen:

a. They can no longer risk taking disorganized, chaotic and potentially dangerous patients and

b. Non-medical and non-psychiatric philosophies start to dominate, and the severely ill are excluded. And

c. (at least in my experience) away from the stable budget and managerial practices of a hospital, strange things happen, all the way from pop psychology to fraud.

5. I suppose it was inevitable that each discipline develop more of a sense of autonomy and independence. Social workers and other mental health professionals are no longer case managers working with psychiatrists. They are independent counselors. The development of simplistic models of counseling (CBT and DBT) which can be applied once per week for ten weeks helped this along. This has also contributed to something of an anti-pharmaceutical attitude. (By the way, there is no evidence that CBT is any more helpful than any other professional counseling relationship, but being a rigid simplistic set of responses it is easier to study)

6. I am also convinced that by putting addictions and mental health (illness) under the same umbrella, we diluted what sympathy and empathy the community was developing for the seriously mentally ill.

7. This was compounded by the so-called recovery model, which at its heart, really means (and this may be appropriate for addicts) that if you really try hard enough and think only good thoughts (CBT), and are sufficiently “supported”, you can get well and recover fully.

8. The corollary of this being that if a person with a psychotic illness is not recovering it just means he is not trying hard enough.

9. De-stigmatization. I just happened to watch “Big” the other night and noticed that the actor who played a walk through part, non speaking, looking homeless and mumbling to himself in downtown New York, was listed in the credits as playing “Schizo”. The real way to de-stigmatize any illness is not by feel good infomercials, but by providing adequate and successful treatment. Think Leprosy, AIDS, cancer.

10. Without a team to work with, to case manage, to field crisis calls, to make home visits, to check on progress more frequently, a lone psychiatrist will find it difficult to treat the severely ill.

11. The tightening of the mental health acts and processes in each state and province,  the protection of individual rights and the provision of due process (as defined by lawyers), again based on a sort of naive idealism, resulted in four unintended consequences: thousands of people suffering from untreated psychotic illnesses in the streets and shelters, a burgeoning population of mentally ill in the prisons, the dramatic growth of locked Forensic Psychiatry Units, and a sad return to locked doors for the rest of the hospital now dominated by the Forensic units.

Between 1900 and 1960 the severely mentally ill were mostly institutionalized, treated in mental hospitals for long lengths of stay, by doctors who were often imported and/or had limited licenses. Then as now, the Academic and North American trained psychiatrists worked in private offices treating a small number of patients over many years. These patients could be counted on to be articulate, educated, and at least middle class.

Between about 1960 and 1990, with new effective medications and the move to de-institutionalize, community clinics like the ones I worked in developed in many parts of North America; the General Hospitals developed psychiatric programs, and for at least two decades, perhaps three, we seemed to be moving in the right direction. In parts of Canada incentives were developed to keep psychiatrists working in hospitals with the severely ill or as they were called then, the seriously and persistently ill. And the University Departments of Psychiatry finally took an interest in the medical treatment of the severely mentally ill.

We were going in the right direction.

And now it seems we must re-invent the wheel.

For more information on schizophrenia, check out the documentary Schizophrenia in Focus

Time to Scrap the Mental Health Commission of Canada

By Marvin Ross

Psychiatric care in Canada for those who are sickest is virtually non-existent according to a new study just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Looking at Ontario, the research found that the majority of people treated in emergency after a suicide attempt do not see a psychiatrist within six months after discharge. Two thirds of those released from hospital after a stay for a serious mental illness do not see a psychiatrist in the first month post discharge.

None of this is unique to Ontario. In a BC experiment referred to in the link above, researchers tried to book a patient from a family doctor’s practice quickly. Of 230 psychiatrists, only six could see that patient in a timely manner.

For those who read me regularly, none of this is particularly new. I’ve been pointing out the deficiencies of our mental health services for years and criticizing the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) which should be scrapped.

The MHCC arose out of the excellent Senate Committee Report called Out of the Shadows at Last — Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada in 2006. It received federal funding in 2007 to act as “a catalyst for transformative change” with the goal to “improve services and support.”

Today, MHCC’s vision according to its 2017-2022 Strategic Plan is to “raise awareness of the mental health and wellness needs of Canadians and to catalyze collaborative solutions to mental health system challenges”. That is far removed from the original goal to improve services for the mentally ill and their families.

The original research for the Senate Report was based in large part by submissions made by citizens from every region of Canada who were affected by mental illness. Many of them related their difficulties in accessing adequate care and treatment.

In 2015, the MHCC looked at indicators of mental health in Canada and found very few areas that were adequate despite eight years of funding to improve services and supports. Louise Bradley, the CEO of the Commission, was refreshingly honest when she was asked in 2016 if services are more readily available today compared to 10 years ago.

“I would really like to say yes, it is dramatically better but I can’t say that. Access to services is really a big problem.”

I am encouraged by the fact that the Federal Minister of Health appointed two experts to review Pan Canadian health agencies in order to improve their services to Canadians. These are federal organizations that deal in substance abuse, mental health, patient safety and information. The two reviewers requested submissions from the public and since I have been a very vocal critic of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, I submitted a critique with my advocacy colleague, Lembi Buchanan of Victoria, BC.

One very significant reason for the failure of the MHCC is its lack of jurisdiction on health and funding. The original Senate Report stated that the Federal Government cannot effect change in areas like health which are the jurisdiction of the Provinces but they can influence it with grants. They said that “the provinces and territories receive federal grants in exchange for agreeing to respect certain conditions on how they use these transfers. This is how federal legislation such as the Canada Health Act works.” (Sec 16.1.1). Therefore, improvements to mental health care in the provinces could be encouraged by providing the provinces with funds specifically for mental health.

“The creation of the Mental Health Commission is, in the (Senate) Committee’s view, one of the two key components of what could be called a “national strategy” contained in this report. The second involves the creation of a Mental Health Transition Fund. If agreed to by the federal government, this Fund will permit the transfer of federal funds to the provinces and territories for their use in accelerating the transition to a mental health system predominantly based in the communities in which people with mental illness and addiction live. (S16.1.4)”

The MHCC was doomed from the very beginning because of the lack of jurisdiction and funding, The Transition Fund was never approved. Had it been given, it would have made available $519 million/year for 10 years:

When the MHCC was established, it was to develop a mental health strategy. The 2011draft strategy was leaked to the press and universally criticized for “the scant reference to the urgent needs of people with severe mental illnesses including individuals who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”

While the sickest of the sick cannot get timely treatment, the MHCC, we pointed out, has spent money, time and resources trying to destigmatize mental illness. Part of the MHCC’s stigma strategy was to influence how the press writes about mental illness. The Commission spent time and money holding seminars across Canada to convince journalism students to write more positive stories. But, the very nature of journalism is to write about violence.

The futility of this exercise was summed up by Andre Picard who took part in those seminars with students. He said, “We don’t cover normalcy, we’re drawn to the spectacular.”

If these destigmatizing campaigns are successful and more people seek out services, they simply won’t find them.

Another focus of the commission is Mental Health First Aid. Like conventional first aid, the purpose of the program is to offer assistance and relief to someone experiencing a mental health crisis until expert help arrives. Sadly, there is no evidence that the program benefits anyone for whom it is intended.

A very large evaluation of the program at 32 colleges in the United States found that the program helped those who took the course but no one else: “Training was effective in enhancing trainees’ self-perceived knowledge and self-efficacy, but these gains did not result in effects for the target population. The trainees were more likely to seek professional mental health support for themselves, a finding consistent with at least one other recent study.”

Our suggestion is to end the commission and spend the money to provide services and to improve a health care sector that is more reminiscent of a third world country than one in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Mark Vonnegut, Schizophrenia and Mother Blaming

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Mark Vonnegut, the son of Kurt, had (has) a psychotic illness. In his autobiographical novel he explained delusions in this way: if you were being chased by a pack of wild dogs, wouldn’t you rather think that somewhere there was a hound master who could call them off if he chose to do so?

I have always thought he was right, at least with respect to delusions. They are explanations for experiences that, in the case of mania, cannot be explained within the accepted laws of physics; in the case of schizophrenia, cannot be explained by a diminished social perceptual and information processing system; and, in the case of dementia, cannot be explained by a diminished cognitive apparatus.

The invented explanations are usually quite simple and usually involve blame in either a positive sense (God has granted me…) or a negative sense (the CIA is…). The target for blame (or perceived source) in a delusion is always standard fare. The source of extraordinary power and well being is God; the causes of failure, constraint, weakness, control, are parents, the police, a disease, or Aliens. The methods are always contemporary:  in pre-industrial  cultures, by curses, spells, hexes, and evil eyes, through the 20th century by radar and radio waves, and now through a variety of electronic devices, bugs, and micro implants. And as per the topic of a recent blog, note that parents make that list.

But beyond an explanation of delusions, this wish for a hound master who could, if he chooses, call off the dogs of hell, is really quite universal. Historically we have used, or fallen into, just such an explanation for every sin, illness, climatic event, and tragedy that befell us. And, almost always, we have been wrong.

But this need, this psychological human brain imperative, continues. The value of this trait of the human brain (mapping, organizing, understanding) lies in the advancements of science. We want to understand why things happen as they happen. The downside to this need, this wish, is the continuing enthrall of astrology, a myriad other nonsense fads and conspiracy theories, and the wish to find someone to blame  for schizophrenia.

More on Families, Privacy And Suicide

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Much of psychiatry is about convincing people to do things that will improve their mood, their health, and their lives. Exercise, better diet, overcoming fears, taking necessary medication, stop taking harmful substances, go to bed earlier, turn off electronics, find balance in your life, join something to overcome loneliness, stop procrastinating, call a relative, tell your husband, plan your day, stop worrying about things you cannot control, take baby steps, take medication regularly as prescribed, go for blood tests, enjoy small pleasures, scream at someone rather than cut yourself….

It is not in the DSM V (I think) but we know “no man is an island”. We are social beings. Maybe not to the extent of bees and ants, but no less than chimpanzees. We are never fully independent life forms. Even a hermit has a relationship (albeit a distorted and contrary one) with the community and family he or she is rejecting.

We also know that the quick impulse to say to the doctor, “Don’t tell my family.” or “I don’t want my family involved.” is often derived from shame, guilt, a sense of failure, and sometimes the opposite, a genuine wish to not burden the other. This is further complicated in the teen and youth years by an ongoing negotiation with respect to power, control, individuation, responsibility. We also know in these years the adolescent often says, in the same breath, “I hate you. Give me a hug.” “Get out of my life. Drive me to the mall.” “Don’t tell my dad. Please tell my dad so he can protect me.”

And we also know that persons suffering from severe anxiety and depression develop a sort of tunnel vision that excludes broad levels of social awareness and understanding. “Leave me alone.” And people suffering from a psychotic illness often harbour delusions about family members. “She’s controlling me.”

So, absolutely, when the young person says, “Don’t involve my family.” professionals should explore this, and then convince the patient otherwise unless there is good evidence that keeping the family (parents, sibs) away will be ultimately better for this patient.

Insane Consequences Review – Mandatory Reading for Students, Politicians and Health Care Bureaucrats

By Marvin Ross

Insane Consequences How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill by US advocate, DJ Jaffe is a tremendous resource for anyone wishing to understand the industry that has developed around mental illness. And that is an industry that ignores the most seriously ill in favour of promulgating programs that are not evidence based, that are grounded in social theory rather than scientific theory, and generate jobs for the professional carers.

I am absolutely amazed at the amount of work that has gone into this volume. If anyone doubts Jaffe’s conclusions or statements, his sources are well laid out so you can check on them for yourself. A great deal of the problems with mental illness treatment in the US is its totally absurd health care system which baffles those of us who live in countries with universal single payer health care.

A few years ago, the Bridgeross author, Erin Hawkes (When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey with Schizophrenia), appeared on an NPR radio show in Ohio to talk about her book. The interviewer was amazed at how much care and treatment she received in both Halifax and then Vancouver. How much did it all cost, she was asked. She thought for quite  awhile and said, “I think I once paid for an ambulance ride”. The interviewer was stunned.

But then, we don’t have absurd rules like the Institute for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion. Because of this rule, Jaffe points out, Medicaid will not reimburse states for psychiatric beds. When the states cannot get reimbursed, they close the hospitals.

However, despite the difference in how health care is funded, most of what Jaffe talks about is relevant for Canada and, I suspect, other western countries. The seriously mentally ill are ignored for the most part, make up a huge proportion of the homeless and of the prison population. The focus, as Jaffe discusses, in the US and in other countries is on stigma which helps no one, on denying the connection with violence for those who are untreated, and on the misguided concept that people are free to decide their own fate when they lack the capacity to do so and are thus left to fend for themselves when they need to be hospitalized.

While medication is the cornerstone of proper treatment, there are still non evidence based theories being flogged as replacements for the medications. We have Open Dialogue from Finland that lacks any proper evidence, Mental Health First Aid, prevention programs to prevent illnesses where the cause is not known, and to foster peers with so called lived experience to replace trained medical staff. All discussed in this book.

I should also mention that Jaffe talks about the problems that caregivers have dealing with the system because of privacy laws. I quoted him in my Huffington Post blog on the problems that caregivers have with a suggestion that we all deserve a hug.

All of the book is valuable as a resource but what I found most helpful was his Appendix on the studies of Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). These orders compel a mentally ill individual to accept treatment in the community. If they refuse, then they can be hospitalized. Jaffe cites about 20 studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of this program to reduce homelessness, incarceration, violence, reduced hospitalizations, and emergency department visits to name a few.

This book should be mandatory reading for all students in mental health counselling programs, nursing, social work and medicine. It also needs to be read by government policy makers. Money can be thrown at a problem but unless that money is spent wisely on evidence based programs, it is wasted. And that is what happens today.

Finally, because Jaffe is donating all his royalties to  the Treatment Advocacy Center and to Mental Illness Policy Org, purchasing the book will help those groups better advocate for the seriously mentally ill.

Yes Virginia, Psychiatric Medication Does Work.

By Marvin Ross

As I’ve said so many times, anecdotes are not proof of anything but I am going to use one to demonstrate the efficacy of anti-depressants. The anti-medication people do nothing but give anecdotes of the dangers of psychiatric medications and the difficulties some have going off them. When research is cited, they usually attack it as being biased and/or funded by big pharma.

Research does show that for most and when prescribed properly, these pharmaceutical agents do help. As an example, I’m the power of attorney for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease. When he was first being assessed by a family doctor, he came out as being depressed on the Beck Depression Inventory. While he was under going evaluation, he was given anti-depressants which he only took rarely.

However, when he had his diagnosis confirmed by the geriatric psychiatrist, it was recommended that he go back on and stay on the anti-depressant to help with both his depression and his anxiety. In order to ensure compliance with that and the Alzheimer’s med, he was given a weekly blister pack. The pharmacist loaded the pills for each day and for the proper time.

He saw the psychiatrist a few months later and was assessed again on the Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE). The psychiatrist noted that not only did he appear more relaxed and less anxious than at the previous session, but that his dementia score had improved slightly – not because his dementia was better but because he had less anxiety.

Then, a few months later, the home care co-ordinator showed up to do a reassessment. She called me amazed. My friend, she said, was far more relaxed and showed no signs of anxiety or agitation which were evident when she first assessed him. As she said, “he still does not know where he lives or what the date is, but he is very relaxed about everything”.

Yes, this is an anecdote that and not a definitive study but it is an example of the benefit of this class of drugs. For a list of the meta analytic studies done for anti-depressants that do show efficacy, visit this webpage. Check out the home page on that site for other resources. Thanks to Robert Powitzky for pointing me to it.

The Brain, Cognition and Illness

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The aware, receiving, perceiving, organizing, planning brain.

Two recent writings got me thinking about this. The first was a comment from Mr. Summerville, in support of the absolute discharge of Mr. Vince Li, that Mr. Li showed “no signs of cognitive impairment”. The second was the raw honesty of Mr. Bowers when he writes that when he took a shotgun upstairs with the intention of killing his grandmother he was “bat shit crazy”.

I suffered one of those nasty strains of flu this winter. At the time it seemed to affect every organ in my body. Including my brain. That is my brain was aware this state of body sickness was impairing some of its functions as well.

I guess it’s tricky. We are aware when our stomachs aren’t working as we would wish them, when our prostates and kidneys are not quite right, when perhaps our livers are acting up, our eyes, our inner and middle ears, our calf muscles are balking. Well, really, it is our brain noticing these things. But when the brain is acting up, not quite functioning smoothly in one of its functions, there is no one left to tell us. That is, no other organ in the body is prepared to tell us that the brain is a little off. “Liver here. Brain, your thinking is off.” or “Brain, your medulla oblongata is a little sluggish this morning. Your perceptions are clouded.”

I have also suffered, by my own count, three depressions of clinical severity so far in my life. Perhaps the cause of these can be traced to my circumstances each time, perhaps my genetics, perhaps to my childhood, probably a combination of genetics and circumstances. But each time it happened I know my brain was impaired, not functioning well, not scanning, perceiving, reviewing, interpreting as it normally does.

You can find a list of the symptoms of “depression” in the DSM and on many a website not to mention TV advertisements for the latest antidepressant. But of course the organ experiencing these symptoms is the same one reading and hearing about them.

It is often family members and close friends who notice first. You are not yourself, they say. Or “the spark has gone from your eyes.” And always when I treat someone for depression and they improve, it is family members who notice the improvement first. The patient tells me they don’t notice any change, though I see his or her eyes are livelier, his face a little less strained, and the corners of his mouth more agile. And the mother or wife points out he came down for dinner, engaged in conversation, laughed at a joke. The brain of the patient hasn’t noticed these changes yet, because… well because its perceptual, interpreting, responding, scanning apparatus is still partially impaired.

Liver illness impairs the functioning of the liver. Mental illness impairs the functioning of the brain, and that can be some or many of its functions. Mental illness is a brain illness.

So let’s go back to Vince Li. His brain was absolutely definitely impaired at the time of his crime. And at this point if he is not terrified of relapsing, and thus wanting help for the rest of his life to keep himself from relapsing, if he does not himself (his brain) understand and want all safeguards in place to keep himself from relapsing, if he thinks he can just change his name and move on, then his brain is still impaired in some of its functions. If this is the case then his perceptual, cognitive, judgmental processes are still impaired.

Contrast that with the Blog written by Mr. Bowers. He has fully recovered from being “bat shit crazy” and he is fully aware he never wants to go there again, and he is fully aware (the perceptual, organizing, planning, monitoring, cognitive processes of his brain are functioning well) that he needs help and vigilance to never go back to that place again.

More on Vince Li and Absolute Discharge

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Let me give a little background to my previous blog on Vince Li.

I have had many patients over the years (50 years now, actually) who have done well with treatment, who recover, who have insight, who promise to stay on their medication. They are good people. I like them. We become friends. With some it can involve an ongoing dialogue about needing or not needing to stay on medication.

But at some point most of them stop their medication, at least once. Their lives have changed. They have been well for 20 years. They meet a family doc who doesn’t understand why they are still taking Olanzapine. They fall in love. They move. They get ill in some other way. The pharmacy changes hands. Their doctor moves. They come under the influence of one of any number of cults, including Scientology. They read the bullshit of the anti-psychiatry crowd, or the homeopaths. Someone offers them cocaine.

So at some point most of them stop their medication at least once.

With psychotic illness the illness returns, and it always returns in the same way. With some my relationship is good enough that I can cajole them into going back on their medication. With some I have had to spend hours offering it while my patient tries to decide if I am a friend or the devil. With others it means a complete relapse and re-hospitalization.

And in most cases, the only ones hurt by this relapse are my patient and his or her family. That is no small thing though. The social, emotional, vocational, educational, and sense- of-self cost is huge. Often a year or more of progress is lost.

Lack of insight may be a good predictor of human behaviour, but insight itself is not. An equally poor predictor of future behaviour is remorse, or a display of remorse. “Good behaviour, model patient or prisoner” has also little to do with what will happen in a different context five years from now. I will agree, however, that a good support system is a good predictor, but we need that support system in place for 40 years.

We clinicians are further hampered by our natural empathy, our natural sympathy that flows toward anyone nearby. It is not special; it is just human. At least twice a week during commercials I see on the television screen an emaciated fly-covered child. I get up and refill my glass. But should that child and his mother be in the room with me, my response would be quite different. Hence, as I have seen many times with CCRB cases over the years, the staff actually caring for and treating the patient are very poor at predicting future behaviour.

Now, I have not examined Mr. Li. It is possible he had a psychotic episode that will never reoccur. In my 50 years experience I know this to be only possible if the initial psychosis was caused by a brain injury, a stroke, toxic substances, or withdrawal from toxic substances, or very severe acute trauma within the time-frame of the psychosis. But from what I have read Mr. Li developed a schizophrenic illness with hallucinations and the specific delusion that resulted in a very specific horrendous crime.

So, from my 50 years of experience, I would say the people who know Mr. Li, who have spent time with him, are the last people who should be making predictions of future behaviour. Secondly, insight, remorse, promises, even absolute statements of conviction are not good predictors of distant future behaviour.

We know this man, when well, is a very nice man, and could be a good citizen of any community. We also know when ill he is capable of committing a horrendous crime.

Would it not be reasonable to use the tools we have to keep him well for the next 40 plus years? To protect Mr. Li and any future community in which he resides? They are not overly constrictive or intrusive considering the possible consequences of a relapse.

By allowing even a remote chance of a repeated homicide by Mr. Li you are doing everyone else diagnosed with a psychotic illness a great disservice.