First off, I realize that I was maybe a little too hard on Benedict Carey in my previous post (sorry Ben!… not that YOU are reading ME) because the three stories he’s written for the Lives series about people diagnosed with psychiatric illness living traditionally successful lives have been really good and useful for decreasing the stigma and hopelessness associated with “severe” mental illness. First, the article on Joe Holt , then the article on Marsha Linehan (both practicing mental health clinicians) and the latest article on Keris Myrick all showcase folks living well with relationships and careers, despite the common wisdom that folks with psychiatric illness are doomed to low-level functioning with lots of medication and minimal stress. I think it is important for the general public to open up their minds and see alternative views of people diagnosed with mentally ill, other than the violent or the homeless folks with mental illness that usually predominate the newspaper pages.
I was also thrilled to learn that Elyn Saks, whose groundbreaking memoir about living with schizophrenia while pursuing a career in law, The Center Cannot Hold, has been inspiring others and has even led to a study of people with schizophrenia who are functioning at a high level. (I’ve got some issues with the idea of “high functioning” and “low functioning” and what defines “success,” but that’s for another day.) I feel so excited by the following sheepish admission (excerpt from NY Times)
The study has already forced its authors to discard some of their assumptions about living with schizophrenia. “It’s just embarrassing,” said Dr. Stephen R. Marder, director of the psychosis section at U.C.L.A.’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, a psychiatrist with the V.A. Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and one of the authors of the study. “For years, we as psychiatrists have been telling people with a diagnosis what to expect; we’ve been telling them who they are, how to change their lives — and it was bad information” for many people.”