Tag Archives: DJ Jaffe

Twitter, Thomas Szasz and the Channukah Attack

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Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

By Marvin Ross

At the end of December US psychiatrist Allan Frances tweeted that in 1977 he had dinner with Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness). Frances reported that he asked Szasz if he would intervene were his child suicidal because of psychosis. He smiled/answered: “I am a father first, a libertarian second”.

Dr Frances responded that “Szasz could hold extreme views re meds/commitment only because he never once treated a severely ill patient”.

Dr George Ikkos replied that “In 1994 Szasz insurance paid $650,000 for negligence to widow of patient with “manic depression” who committed suicide following his advice to stop lithium. The source is a book called Mad Muses by Jeffrey Berman (P110).” Dr Ikkos is an “elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The Honorary Fellowship is the highest honour the College bestows” (from his website.)

Also chiming in to this interesting twitter exchange was Dr Mark Ruffalo who provided a link to an interview that Szasz did with Jonathan Miller in 1983. He summarizes:

Szasz concedes that society should treat the gravely disturbed (“mad” or psychotic) person in the same way it treats the person who has been rendered unconscious by an accident, implying support for involuntary treatment in these cases.

The entire interview can be seen below and these comments are made around the 34 minute mark. Prior to that, Szasz states that psychiatrists either lock up the innocent or free the guilty and that no mental illness existed prior to the advent of asylums in the mid 18th century.

I’m not sure what provoked the initial tweet by Dr Frances but a couple of comments before transitioning to Channuka. The initial question asked of Szasz is something that I always ask of doctors when they propose a certain course of treatment or a medication. If this was you (or a spouse or parent) would you still suggest that? We should all do that.

The other comment pertains to libertarianism. Szasz suggests that libertarians would always propose no involuntary action. I’m not sure that is a valid position for libertarians and it is definitely not for a psychiatrist I know who is one. This particular Toronto psychiatrist once told me that no one is as libertarian as he is and he firmly supports involuntary committal and treatment. People have an absolute right to decide their own fate but in the case of someone who is psychotic, he said, their mind is incapable of making rational decisions. It would be wrong to allow them to make those choices when so impaired.

While this twitter feed was happening, New York State and FBI officials were declaring the attack against a Channukah party in New York State to be an act of domestic terrorism and that the perpetrator, Grafton Thomas, would be charged with hate crimes. Of course, we all now know that Mr Thomas is a man with untreated schizophrenia.

It is not a hate crime nor is he a domestic terrorist.

He is a delusional soul who has not been provided with treatment as the mental health advocate DJ Jaffe pointed out in his excellent assessment in the New York Daily News. Jaffe points out that Thomas’ long term pastor could not understand why he had never been institutionalized stating “There hasn’t been anyone who has given a real solution to deal with a grown man who is dealing with schizophrenia, other than ‘Go home and call us if something happens.’ ”

Situations like this are not unique to New York State or to the United States but to Canada as well. Every one of those jurisdictions has examples of crimes committed with and without deaths due to the failure to treat people with serious illnesses.

Of course, one of the key reasons that people do not get proper treatment even if it requires involuntary hospitalization stems from the works of Szasz and all the others who deny the existence of serious mental illness.

What is also equally galling is the rise of anti-semitism and other forms of racism in the world today. While US officials were quick to jump on the Channukah attack as a hate crime, they have seemingly ignored others. In the week before the holidays, there were 4 attacks against Jews in the New York City area plus the assault in Jersey City of a Kosher supermarket according to Bernie Farber. Farber is the Chair of the Canadian Anti-hate Network.

Farber also reminded readers of Trump’s anti-semitic comments at a dinner for the Israel American Council. Faber neglected to mention Trump’s comments after the White Nationalist march in Charlottesville or Rudy Guliani’s anti-semitic tirade as reported by CNN.

Attributing the violent delusions of a man with schizophrenia as a hate crime when the villain is our failure to treat mental illness while ignoring real acts of hatred is a travesty.

I never thought I would ever applaud anything from Boris Johnson or from a Chasidic Rabbi but both got it right. Johnson delivered a very forceful speech on fighting anti-semitism while the Rabbi whose house was invaded spoke out about the need for greater understanding and support between minority communities. “The Hasidic Jews of Monsey must ignore the outsiders who want us to take up arms and politicize our tragedy.”

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.