Back in October 1999, I wrote an article for IMprint – a Mensa newsletter – titled “The Crime Solution” where I gave specific suggestions and insights to how crime can be reduced including a mention of mental illness. Those suggestions are being studied today.

I rewrote the article and renamed it “Reducing Recidivism” and included it as chapter 104 in my book In the Matter of Edwin Potter: Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Reform. In it I wrote, in part, “As for the one with mental illness, there can be no real progress until his illness is addressed.” In this regard, Schizophrenia And Related Disorders Alliance of America is taking action. (As a note, I was asked to write a blog for them.) SARDAA was founded about a decade ago. I received an email this past March 2019 from the Founder and CEO, Linda Stalters, which states, in part:

Your urgent financial support is needed to support SARDAA’s efforts to reclassify schizophrenia as a neurological brain illness and re-galvanize the HIPAA "compassionate communication exception".

Why does this matter?

  • There is scientific consensus that the illness is a brain-based, highly heritable illness.

  • There is also overwhelming evidence that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

  • Whether patients receive timely, appropriate treatment has great consequences. After the first episode of schizophrenia, not taking any regular antipsychotic medication is associated with a 12-fold increase in the relative risk of all-cause death and a 37-fold increase in death by suicide.

Reclassification has the best potential to dramatically reduce stigma in the illness and re-invigorate our orientation towards timely and appropriate treatments as well as making incarceration, homelessness and death unacceptable outcomes for schizophrenia…

With your support we can continue our work with other organizations, agencies, medical professionals, diagnosed individuals and families to change the way people are treated medically and socially.

Presently, people with schizophrenia are seen as behavioral problems or felons by the courts. This then carries over to the public who see them the same way. SARDAA wrote letters to see schizophrenia reclassified. These are to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC). From the letter to the CDC:

If schizophrenia having a neurological basis is such an obvious given for clinicians and scientists – people that are ‘in the know’ – why does this question remain in the general public? The answer is likely to be a complex mix of factors that includes a lack of proper education of the public and historical inertia in the systems of care that cater to the schizophrenia population (e.g. psychiatry vs. neurology), as well as how this care is paid for (e.g. structure of reimbursement codes by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

From the letter to the ISMICC:

Patients with psychosis are frequently exposed to negative stereotypes, stigma and social exclusion associated with their diagnosis. Unfortunately, patients and their families often engage in self-stigmatization, blaming themselves for the disorder and wondering what they could have done differently to prevent the illness. Understanding schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses as neurological disorders would help the community at large in viewing these illnesses as they do other medical illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.

In her book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, journalist Alisa Roth states on the jacket:

In America, having a mental illness has become a crime. One in four fatal police shootings involves a person with mental illness. The country’s three largest providers of mental health care are not hospital, but jails. [LA County jail, Cook County jail, and Rikers Island – DG] As many as half the people in US jails and prisons have a psychiatric disorder.

Again, from the letter to ISMICC:

We have general prevalence estimates indicating that 1.2% of all Americans – roughly 3.2 million people – have schizophrenia from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Beyond that broad approximation, we just do not know much more about this patient population. In particular, if we turn to public mental health agencies, who provide the vast majority of publicly financed inpatient hospital and community-based services for people living with schizophrenia, the lack of basic data is striking. For example, baseline demographic data on gender, average age of onset, race, religious affiliation, ethnic background and income are often completely absent. That lack of information often extends to the realm of service delivery. State mental health agencies often struggle to identify the specific type of care provided, the penetration rate for mental health and related support services in a given geographic area, the intensity of service delivery for each patient with schizophrenia and, most importantly, verifiable clinical outcomes. An amendment to the National Neurological Diseases Surveillance System could begin to help answer these baseline questions.

For more information see Read and sign-on to the letters requesting that schizophrenia be reclassified.