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.