Editor at Large: As I See It
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
What follows are not the observations of a reporter, but that of someone who has a passionate interest from experiences within the mental health system for 37 years as a psychiatric consumer. My views are subjective about the current Bellevue Hospital research project into Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC).
I must say I was glad so many consumers came out to testify at the public hearing on December 16, 1998. Who would know best if IOC would work? If we were not asked for our opinions, vitally needed input would have been lost!
Medication compliance by coercion and forced hospitalizations are antithetical for recovery from mental illness. Consumers of all philosophical and political persuasions just don't respond well to threats. By the way, neither do other people in general. There is resistance, anger, and frustration with the mental health system as a result.
Personally I was noncompliant for twenty years for a variety of reasons. Medicines like Thorazine and Melleril had severe side effects. I couldn't function. Other medicines didn't help at all or the dosage was so low I became psychotic. Sometimes I was functioning so poorly I gave up, stopped my medication, became manic and was hospitalized. Lastly, I lived alone, at times isolating myself because I had no support system.
Finally, eighteen years ago at a hospital I was given lithium carbonate. Since that time, I have been compliant. Why? I have a minimum of side effects. I can live with dry mouth, thirst, and frequent urination. At no time did threats or fears of a hospitalization keep me on psychiatric medications. I have stayed compliant because I have been able to live with lithium carbonate day in and day out for eighteen years. Threats didn't help at all.
As individuals we need service choices to meet our individual needs. Pigeon holing us into what exists and not what is needed just won't work for most consumers. Believe me, I know first hand. Ask the consumer what he or she thinks is needed, not necessarily what professionals currently offer.
This was the case with the IOC Bellevue Project. Enhanced supportive services of the project resulted in satisfied recipients who were more willing to take medicines as a result. In other words, supply what consumers really want and need from a program, and increased compliance will occur.
We need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have to know that individualized services exists for us. As a result, recovery will be possible.
The IOC Bellevue Project is slated for legislation in Albany to make this project a statewide program. Contact your State Senator and State Assemblymember asking that the proposed involuntary outpatient commitment bill be dropped. State your views and needs from your experiences. Demand that more services of all types, including programs run by consumers for consumers be funded. Expanded services are needed, not threats for more hospitalizations.