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    The Publisher's Note NAMI-California Censored

    Publisher's Note by Dan E. Weisburd

    "Mental Illness and The Law"

    I remember we were taught in a Political Science class that we had a government of laws not men, and that it was a good thing. Men, with too much power, could act on a whim and do stuff that was detrimental to others-- actions that could be biased, unfair, demeaning, even deadly. Laws were enacted to protect us-- all of us. We the people were committed to justice and equality-- for everyone. No one was overlooked. Not here.

    I liked the sound of that. It made sense, and it caused my boyish pride to swell with a deep inner feeling that I guess you could call patriotism, and that felt good. For me it brought the welcomed embrace of security, especially after cringing through a course in World History and being exposed to the indiscriminate violence and treachery that apparently, with the exception of brief pauses in time, has always stalked humankind.

    Thank heaven our Founding Fathers, through an act of genius and enlightened self-interest, sought to preserve the blessings of liberty by carefully crafting a framework where law ruled and justice prevailed. The founders of the United States bestowed upon us a chance-- to alter the course of history -- a constitution, by which all laws would be tested.

    Our actions regarding this inheritance will keep that chance alive, or let it slip away. Our inaction, our indifference, or our getting caught up in the din of the music of the moment in this age of an emerging technocracy that transports us through a delirium of disconnected facts posing as knowledge, could relegateconstitutional concerns to the "something quaint trash heap" of irrelevant past litter, like a discarded PC that hasn't enough RAM to run anything anymore.

    How vigilant must we be to protect the priceless gift of freedom we have inherited? And how does that gift apply to persons who, through no fault of their own, have disorders of brain chemistry? What attention do they merit? Where on our newly acquired liquid crystal desktop do their rights reside?

    Look deeply into the dark shadows that lie between the lines of so many of the articles in this compelling issue of The JOURNAL, and see for yourself if those questions cry out for enlightened involvement.

    The mother of a frequently abandoned child desperately tries to get her mentally ill son out of the indiscriminate web of "Three Strikes." A police chief beseeches mental health to do its job, so his cops can do theirs. The hostage negotiator despairs that mental illness is being addressed as a public safety issue and that more people will inevitably get hurt-- even killed. An advocate fears that a Mental Health Court has too much power to punish persons who have committed no crimes. A judge believes that, at long last, with a Mental Health Court an ill person has a chance to get fair treatment. A patient protests that treatment is doled out as punishment. An attorney warns that what you say to your therapist may be used against you in court.

    How excruciatingly painful it must be for an accomplished individual with masterful communication skills to be unable to influence the public perception enough to create a demand to alter laws so that what he thinks would be helpful can come to pass. Such appears to be the case with E. Fuller Torrey, MD. For years he had chastised public mental health professionals and his psychiatric colleagues for ducking the problem of the uncared-for, unmedicated psychotics on the street-- homeless, hungry, and neglected. He was right, but to no avail. Now, in apparent desperation to get public action, he willingly tars all those he claims to care about with the same brush-- dangerousness!

    In a series of articles and Op-Ed pieces printed by the best newspapers in our country The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post-- he expertly drums home a single point that he presents as fact.

    " ...the mentally ill are responsible for about 1,000 homicides a year in the United States."

    " We estimate that approximately 1,000 homicides a year are committed nationwide by seriously mentally ill individuals who are not taking their medication. "

    "Department of Justice data suggest that such people commit about 1,000 homicides each year, and the number is apparently increasing."

    His message appears to be getting through this time as Lesley Stahl, on the May 8th, 2000 edition of 60 Minutes, quotes; "According to the Justice Department, the Mentally Ill are responsible for as many as 1,000 killings each year."

    And Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee reads the quote into the Congressional Record, as she seeks funding for programs for people with mental illness.

    Let's see, 1,000 in the country would mean about 120 in California. One murder by a mentally ill person every three days? It's just not true. It doesn't happen!

    The words of Harry Truman ring in my ears, "...Lies, damn lies, and statistics." Has anyone checked the veracity of the statement? You find it repeated everywhere. Could it be accurate?

    My phone rings. It's the National Stigma Clearinghouse (NSC) returning my call. The study Fuller Torrey referred to was by Dawson & Langan, statisticians at the Department of Justice. It was based on 1988 figures and was published in 1994. Dr. Patrick Langan, responding to an NSC inquiry has said that the figure of 1,000 murders by untreated mentally ill persons was wholly unsubstantiated. That there was no such data anywhere, to his knowledge -- not in his report nor anywhere else. In fact, all homicides were not only not on the rise in the 1990's, but rather were in substantial decline.

    Did anyone at the Times, Post or Journal bother to check for source? They're the best we have. And, what about 60 Minutes? They're our most popular and trusted TV information source.

    Wasn't it Josef Goebbels who said, "Make a statement often enough and it becomes a part of the common wisdom?" Anybody remember who Goebbels was?

    States have begun to act in the face of this dangerousness belief-- New York, among others. Will a national law follow? Could it serve patients well? Did Torrey merely create his statement extrapolating from a few known Washington, DC murders committed by mentally ill persons, then speculate on what that might infer nationwide? Will coercive treatment laws stand the constitutional test?

    "Fuller's a brilliant man, and he'd make a helluva scientist if he ever got down to the hard work of serious science," said the late Daniel X. Freedman, MD, editor of The Archives of Psychiatry, and my mentor as I started this publication 11 years ago. Sitting in his UCLA-NPI office, enjoying a weekly consultation, I had mentioned that Dr. Torrey agreed to do an article for our Siblings issue, and how I admired his giftedness. Danny cautioned, "He has a way with words, and a penchant for headlines. Unfortunately hunger for the spotlight often brings a willingness to bend things, and that can boomerang -- get you into trouble."

    Are we all headed for trouble? I miss Danny at moments like this, but I know what Harry Truman would say regarding this oft-quoted statistic that is now out there in play in our world. He'd give 'em hell, all right. And, to his daughter he might add, out of respect for those Founding Fathers, "You've got to be vigilant, Margaret..."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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