Screening for Schizophrenia?

I was on a flight yesterday and before the plane took off, I was reading the article for today about schizophrenia and dopamine systems on my computer.  I could see the man sitting next to me peering over my shoulder and reading the article off my computer as well.  When I had to shut down my computer when the flight was about to take off, he started asking me about what I was reading.  I told him about our class and how we are studying the biological and psychological bases of mental and mood disorders.  We began talking about schizophrenia and he told me that his 30-year-old nephew suffers from schizophrenia and has been incarcerated many times.  While he didn’t go into much detail about this, I became interested in learning more about those people who may be unjustly locked up because of their uncontrollable disorder.

According to schizophrenia.com (I don’t know how reliable this source is), 20% of the 2.1 million Americans in jail are severely mentally ill.  According to the NIMH statistics in 2009, 1.72 million people in the total population suffer from schizophrenia but only 50% know that they are ill.  Therefore, those that do not realize that they are suffering from schizophrenia may be more likely find themselves behind bars for violent actions taken against themselves or people around them because of this mental disorder in which they hear voices inside their heads telling them to do things that are uncharacteristic of their “normal” behavior.

In the Canada Gazette, an article entitled, “The Greyhound Killer could be free soon, Vince Li responding to treatment: psychiatrist” states that a man previously charged with violent crimes including a stabbing has been responding to psychiatric treatment and could be released from custody in a few years.  The patient and killers psychiatrist said that he has been making good progress since last year when he claimed that he was hearing voices from God ordering him to kill the man at the Greyhound station.  Within months after the murder, the Vince Li began to accept the fact that he suffered from schizophrenia and began responding favorably to treatment.  This is a case that accurately reflects the NIMH statistics.  Li was suffering from a mental disorder in which voices were telling him to do something violent, but he was unaware of this condition.  He was incarcerated because of this disorder.    There is no doubt that a murderer should be sentenced to jail; however, in the case of Li, it may seem like an unjust sentencing because of an uncontrollable disease.  It may be beneficial in our society to have a mandatory screening conducted at certain ages so that psychiatrists can examine a patient for early signs of the disease.  This may prevent some of the malicious and violent actions that occur in our society daily due to mental disorders.  It is often that these patients break the law and become violent before being diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist.

Natasha has shared a website with me: chovil.com. This website is created and operated by Ian Chovil, a 56-year-old man from Canada who has suffered from schizophrenia for the past 40 years.  He has only been on pharmacological treatment since 1990.  This website documents his life and his experiences with schizophrenia.  Chovil had lost interest in reality, lost interest in the past, had been homeless, had been incarcerated, had been an alcoholic, and had lost contact with close family and friends.  He claimed that he was taken over by aliens and he wanted to force them out by killing the body he was in. “Schizophrenia can force you to feel and do things that are not in character for you” (Ian Chovil quote).  Chovil had experienced some symptoms early on and had not been diagnosed with schizophrenia until many years later when he was finally incarcerated for becoming violent with a pocketknife to protect himself against homosexuals trying to rape him (the aliens in his head told him to do so).  He had suffered many years before he was put on medication and was experiencing out-of-body actions.  After many years of depression, extreme emotions, and delusional states, anti-psychotic treatment had finally been administered.  Ian says that the quality of his life has improved dramatically.  Here is a great paragraph taken from his website that describes how the experiences of schizophrenia have shaped him.

“My friend Susan says there are two kinds of people. You get on a plane that is supposed to go to Hawaii and instead the plane lands in Siberia. Susan prefers to use Arizona as the alternate destination. You can either learn to enjoy Siberia or forever feel bitter that you didn’t land in Hawaii. Lately Siberia has been fairly pleasant. My life does seem a bit “empty” compared to ordinary peoples lives. I also have a lot of extremely unpleasant memories in which I’ve done things I now regret. It’s difficult to know how much I’m responsible for and how much schizophrenia is responsible for. I think its important for me to focus on enjoying life as much as I can and not dwell on the past. I’m beginning to feel proud of my accomplishments and my individuality. No one has a history exactly like mine, and that is precious in itself. I try to convince myself it was precious. Some days it seems like an incredible waste of a human life.”

In Chovil’s case and the case of the Greyhound murderer, do you think that screening at certain ages (maybe when you get your license, on your 25th birthday, etc) would be appropriate?  Or should mankind just let the disease take its course?

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6 thoughts on “Screening for Schizophrenia?

  1. I represent the side of those who are anti bio psychiatry and drastic reform of the system, perhaps even abolition of psychiatry. I am drug free since 97 and recovered. Feel free to read my website also,

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  2. Interesting idea Sara. I’m not sure how screening for Schizophrenia would work or be justified. And would it be optional or mandatory? I feel that once we start testing for illnesses we have to discuss the long term consequences of testing all diseases. Schizophrenia can be a danger to others, but illnesses such as depression can make one be dangerous to oneself. That would be a controversial topic to discuss in the future. I am no expert but I think that some would be extremely against something such as a screening for psychological disorders. Somewhat like genetic alterations or “designer babies”

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  3. I agree Jessie’s point about it opening up screening for a variety of other disorders, but at some point during class I believe we discussed how treatment and care of Schizophrenic patients is a huge cost to the American health care system today. I had never considered early screening, but it does sound like an idea that may be viable, especially given the specific case of the “Greyhound Killer”. The progression into Schizophrenia may be painful, as the individual and his or her family and friends struggle to cope with the new erratic behaviors. The idea of “designer babies” is certainly an valid counterpoint to the idea of general screenings, but I believe if there was a casual and efficient method devised for detecting schizophrenic susceptibility, it would be a loss to not open it to the public.

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  4. The topic of incarceration and mental illnesses is a really touchy subject. I honestly believe that our whole jail system needs to be reformed. It needs to change from punishment to reformatory. If this were to occur then the jail system has the opportunity to help people who are incarcerated no matter their mental condition. However I also recognize that is hard to accept a different system with some of the crimes that people commit.

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  5. The fact that these hallucinations and delusions can overpower an individual’s knowledge of laws and the consequences as extreme as incarceration certainly speaks of their intensity. John Nash’s remark about his delusions coming to him in the same manner that his mathematical reasoning did keeps sticking with me… I think the validity that people sense in their delusions can be neither imagined nor understood by people without schizophrenia.

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  6. I think that Chovil’s webpage is incredibly interesting. The part that was most interesting for me to read was the part where he discussing all of his delusions. What amazes me is the amount of understanding he has regarding his delusions–it makes it hard to understand how he has trouble differentiating between what is real and what isn’t (then again, I just think of the Nash quote, and I realize how difficult it is to tease the two apart).

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