Sunday, November 29, 2009

Schizophrenia is my new cause

I'm a survivor of colon cancer (11 years). My wife and I have contributed liberally to the American Cancer Society since then, although it is only recently that I started to get caught up in more active support (via the Walk for Life).

It's a great cause, but I'm re-thinking my personal priorities.

As I noted in my last post, my son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Prior to the diagnosis, he had been thrown out of two colleges, in trouble with the law, fired from several jobs, thrown out of his apartment, and unbearable to have back at home with us. He had been seeing counselors on a regular basis, but things only continued to get worse.

Since his diagnosis, which was harder to hear than my own cancer diagnosis, my wife and I have been frantically trying to learn about this illness, and we know understand that the behaviors that have disturbed and angered us are not his fault. We're also discovering that schizophrenia is badly misunderstood, ignored, and under-funded.

Some facts:

The Prevalence Rate for schizophrenia is approximately 1.1% of the population over the age of 18 (source: NIMH)

NIH research spending in the US is less than $75 per individual affected by schizophrenia, vs. about $169 per person for colorectal cancer and $2,240 per person with HIV/AIDS.

As many as one in five (20%) of the 2.1 million Americans in jail and prison are seriously mentally ill, far outnumbering the number of mentally ill who are in mental hospitals.

The vast majority of people with schizophrenia who are in jail have been charged with misdemeanors such as trespassing.

Approximately 200,000 individuals with schizophrenia or manic-depressive illness are homeless, constituting one-third of the approximately 600,000 homeless population

I should point out that I lean right politically, and therefore might be thought of by some as a heartless bastard. But I think we, as a nation, can do much better than we have been.

In the single case of my son, we have an individual who anyone (including himself) might justifiably call a "loser". But if we had known a couple of years ago what we know now, we might have prevented the costly failures and the hours in court. Shouldn't we be trying to do that as much as possible?

I don't have any solid answers, but it seems obvious that with earlier detection and treatment, we can divert people from jails and homeless shelters into productive lives, and save a few bucks along the way.

So the American Cancer Society will be seeing a bit less of me, while I devote some time to a neglected illness that needs some positive attention.

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