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Is there a "Madness Lobby" Advocating against Treating Schizophrenia?

A columnist blames the shootings in Arizona on mental health advocates who have made it harder to commit and treat patients for schizophrenia.

Is it true that there is a “madness lobby” of “mental-health ‘advocates,’ federal bureaucrats and crusading civil libertarians who fight to maintain a status quo that makes it so hard to treat the mentally ill?”

Syndicated columnist and National Review editor Rich Lowry thinks so, and in a widely published syndicated editorial, he said that “President Obama was too sweeping when he said we shouldn’t point fingers” and seek to lay blame for the mass shooting in Tucson, AZ. According to Lowry, this “madness lobby” deserves the blame “for a system that willfully lets people fall through the cracks and pretends diseased minds can make rational decisions.” Their efforts are making “the literally lunatic act of violence a routine part of the American landscape.”

Lowry cited several statistics to illustrate the grim toll schizophrenia and other forms of severe mental illness exact in this country: 4 million people in the US have serious mental illnesses, 1.8 million of whom go untreated; 200,000 homeless people with schizophrenia or another form of severe mental illness; 300,000 prisoners diagnosed with one of these conditions. To back up his claim about the violence perpetrated by people with schizophrenia, Lowry cited the work of psychiatrist and schizophrenia researcher E. Fuller Torrey, MD, and wrote that “tormented by depression or delusions, about 15% [of these mentally ill patients] kill themselves, and they commit about 1,600 murders a year.”

Lowry also blamed a group of what he calls “anti-psychiatrist thinkers” (including Thomas Szasz and Michel Foucault) who “provided the philosophical impetus for emptying our mental institutions.” According to Lowry, these men and their “idiot ravings,” along with “idealistic lawyers who wanted to vindicate the civil rights of patients” and “foolish budget cutting,” launched an assault on commitment laws across the country that resulted in a decades-long process of “dumping” people out of mental hospitals and institutions and into prison and the streets.

Because of this, Lowry decries the fact that it is now “the rule in most states to wait until someone is on the very cusp of suicide or murder to commit them,” along with being “nearly impossible to force the mentally ill to take their medication, in or out of the hospital.”

And yet, Lowry said that “even with the human wreckage of its handiwork all around us, the madness lobby persists,” singling out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for charges of funding efforts “to liberate the seriously ill from their treatment.”

Lowry concluded the column by noting that “apparently no one brought Jared Loughner to the attention of the mental-health system” and musing over whether we will “seize on this particular senseless murder by someone who is deeply disturbed to reconsider our neglect of the mentally ill.” Regardless of whether this incident prompts us to examine how we identify and treat severe mental illness in this country, Lowry says that we can rest assured that this kind of violence will happen again.