I wish to rectify a potential misapprehension left by Stephanie Mencimer’s otherwise excellent profile of psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey (“Brain Storm,” 1/16). The scenario of a person with a mental illness living “in a box under the Whitehurst Freeway” is not, as Dr. Torrey asserts, a goal of mental health advocates. Neither is it justification for incarceration and forced treatment in the ramshackle St. Elizabeths Hospital. The etiology of schizophrenia is irrelevant here. Homelessness among people disabled by mental illness is a social problem. It reflects a poorly funded and ill-conceptualized community mental health system that is unable to deliver even basic services to needy citizens of the District and fails to offer assistance in respectful ways. The characterization of people with schizophrenia as sick individuals who “lose their minds” and should therefore forfeit their rights is both biologically inaccurate and socially irresponsible.
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
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