No Joking Matter

I’m going to write a blog entry on a Saturday afternoon because this needs to be said:

Why was I able to get help within 24 hours when I had a breakdown? Why was I admitted to the hospital that day and given medication? I exhibited garden-variety symptoms like thinking the government was after me and that the world was ending and that I was going to be killed. Hardly unusual as far as these things go.

Why was I able to get help when James Holmes exhibited homicidal thoughts and his psychiatrist failed to seek involuntary treatment? A news account I read on Thursday night detailed the trajectory of his failed mental health treatment.

Holmes might have played her so she wouldn’t turn him in. Yet the confidentiality rule does go out the window and should go out the window when your patient outlines that he wants to kill someone.

This new law for social workers and counselors and psychotherapists was the topic of a Room for Debate column in the New York Times. You bet I think a counselor should seek immediate involuntary treatment BEFORE a patient goes off the rails and AS SOON AS the patient expresses a violent intent NOT AFTER he becomes violent.

I’ve been accused of not having schizophrenia simply because my symptoms stopped within three weeks of getting the medication when I was first hospitalized. I’ve been told by an armchair Internet psychiatrist (a woman who uses a fake name) that I had a once-in-a-lifetime never-to-be-repeated episode that didn’t require medication. She criticized me for identifying as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I’ve had a social worker tell me in one intake that I couldn’t possibly have schizophrenia all because I could string two sentences together and showed up to his office in a designer suit in 1993. It’s the usual ho-hum stereotype that all people who have schizophrenia must be barely able to function and be floridly psychotic the rest of their lives to be considered “living with” this illness.

I’m “living with” this illness. I have a better life because I got the right treatment within 24 hours.

CMHC’s cater to the worried well because they don’t want to treat a guy like James Holmes. “Not on my watch” as the saying goes. Curiously now I feel compassion in a general way because Holmes clearly was psychotic. The commitment laws are a sham: the criteria that someone is a danger to himself or others is too high a bar to set because by the time a person IS a danger it’s too late and the symptoms have become entrenched.

Psychiatrists who do not want to treat patients with low doses of medication when a person first exhibits symptoms of schizophrenia are colluding in this sorry state of affairs in the mental health system.

It’s no joking matter.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families of the movie theater shooting. You deserved–we all deserve–better than business as usual in the broken-down treatment system.

My name is Christina Bruni. It’s my real name. I’m not ashamed. And I’m not afraid “to speak the truth to power.”

Now: if only HuffingtonPost would publish something I write. Something like this.

Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and athlete.

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