2012 APA - IPS: Innovative Tools to Improve Recovery Outcomes in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

Kristen Georgi

Mental health advocate calls for a multidisciplinary approach to treating patients with severe mental illness.

New York, NY — Will Hall, MA, DiplPW provided a fresh perspective on mental illness and the role of psychiatric services during a lecture titled “Mental Diversity: 13 Practical Innovations to Improve Recovery Outcomes for Schizophrenia and Bipolar” at the American Psychiatric Association 64th Institute on Psychiatric Services.

Hall is one of the founders of the Freedom Center, a support and activism center that is founded on a philosophy of choice and harm reduction. The Freedom Center provides peer counseling, acupuncture, and yoga by and for people with severe mental disorders.

After struggling for years with extreme emotions, hearing voices, and having out-of-body experiences, Hall was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in his mid-20s. “When I was given that diagnosis, I said, ‘Great, I can get relief,’ but the diagnosis became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had a condition that was incurable,” he explained.

According to Hall, the current understanding of mental disorders is a disease model, a progressive brain disorder whose symptoms are treated with psychotropic medications. He contends that this is not the only model, referencing the need to see extreme states as moments on the continuum of human experiences that may be considered extraordinary and need not be viewed as the result of disease. Such states, he said, are often accepted in other cultures, such as those whose healers attribute extreme states to spirit possession. Offering an example from a culture more like our own, he said, “In the UK, the first-line treatment for depression is no longer medication but exercise.”

In a rush of well-documented information, Hall provided more than a dozen insights and suggestions that fulfilled the promise of his lecture title:

  • Schizophrenia and bipolar may be considered primarily relationship disorders
  • There is a need to address the stigma and dehumanization that is attached to psychiatric labeling
  • Sleep deprivation should be considered as a contributing factor, in particular as related to bipolar disorder
  • Trauma holds a strong place in the later development of psychotic experiences
  • Forced treatment and restraint are additionally traumatizing to already fragile patients
  • There is aneed to disentangle mental illness from the correctional system
  • The polarization of “us” and “them” that routinely occurs between people with psychosis and the professionals who treat them needs to be rectified
  • Withdrawal effects seen in patients who discontinue psychiatric medications may be attributable to drug responses rather than the re-emergence of psychotic symptoms.

A proponent of the recovery movement, Hall provides a shining example. This is not a new movement, he stated, but has roots as far back as the mid-19th century with the founding of the Alleged Lunatics’ Friends Society in Britain that campaigned for greater human rights for people with mental disorders.

As part of his advocacy work, Hall authored Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs, stating that an important part of his recovery was coming off medications. His ability to motivate himself and advocate for reform would not be possible, he said, if he were under the influence of the very medications intended to relieve his symptoms, adding that there is a need for honesty about the risks and side effects of psychotropics. He contended that he is in neither pro- nor antidrugs, but pro-choice, and spoke about the need for informed consent and advance psychiatric directives for patients with mental disorders.