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Mental illness affects more than those diagnosed

It is ironic that in the same week my editorial about mental illness ran in The Weekly, a Bay Area woman diagnosed with schizophrenia allegedly threw her three children into the bay. Authorities believe they are all dead. She told police that voices in her head told her to do it.

Need we a more tragic example of what happens when our society fails to recognize, accept, embrace and successfully treat mental illness? I suspect that when this woman’s illness is properly treated, she will be more horrified by her own actions than any of us are.

To shed further light on the issue, I consulted with a friend who has experienced psychosis. He explained that for him, “A paranoid, delusional self takes over, it’s … a different life, a different self.” He went on to say that “there are no flashes of insight or reality” during his episodes and that he is “so out of control.”

This woman’s illness should have been recognized much earlier. She should have been educated about what it means to have schizophrenia and how to treat it.

The reason why it’s important to openly discuss psychosis is because we need to kill the myths, misinformation and stereotypes about it. For example, the only reason we have made progress against AIDS is because we began to talk about it, educate ourselves and actively work to prevent its spread.

It is unconscionable to me that our health care system neglects cases such as these. As a “consumer” of the mental health system, I can attest that public mental health agencies and resources are few and far between, are chronically understaffed and barely provide acceptable care. The Medicare and Medi-Cal systems force the severely mentally ill to live below the poverty line in order to receive the treatment that sustains them. Unbelievably, Gov. Schwarzenegger proposes cutting these benefits even further.

The media should take heed that portraying only the most extreme cases of mental illness simply perpetuates the untrue and unfair myth that we are crazy and dangerous. In so doing, the media reinforces the barriers between those who need help and the resources that should provide it.

This (former) mother should be charged with involuntary manslaughter, not murder. She should be respectfully monitored for the rest of her life so this never happens again. She should be held accountable, not punished.