Friday, April 20, 2012

In memory of Jake

What happened to Jake?

Seven years after being hospitalized in a psych ward, my brilliant, funny, sensitive, artistic, shining star of a son died as a homeless person after being struck by an Amtrak train in Santa Barbara.

Impossible, sickening, and yet it happened.

I can remember when he was a newly minted mental patient, admitted to OSU’s psych ward at age 21. I and some of Jake’s other supporters were consulting with the people in white coats about his prognosis which was, in their estimation, either grim or grimmer. They did not want to give us any hope for his recovery. In frustration and wanting to inject some hope into the discussion, my long-time friend Drew, who had known Jake since he was two and had come to the psych ward out of love and caring, said, “Couldn’t it be that Jake has simply had a good old-fashioned nervous breakdown?” The resident snapped back, “There’s no such thing.”

Really. And why not?

What I have learned in the time since Jake’s death is that despite what mainstream psychiatry likes to purport, people recover from psychotic disorders all the time, all over the world. I have met many of these survivors personally. I have also been told by a psychiatrist/former schizophrenia patient that one of the worst places you can take a psychotic young person for help is the psych ward of a teaching hospital, which unfortunately was precisely where Jake landed.

If, when Jake had his crisis, we had lived in northern Finland, where psychosis is treated in a radically hopeful way, he would likely not only be alive today, but also thriving. Sadly, we were living in the U.S., where young people who experience psychosis are told that they have some sort of debilitating brain disease for which there is no cure. What could be more hopeless?

But let me inject some hope back into this story. In the past few years, I have met dozens of people who have fully recovered from “psychotic disorders.” All of them had to break away from mainstream psychiatry in order to find wholeness and healing.

In a 2005 interview for MedScape, former schizophrenia patient Daniel B. Fisher MD, PhD, was asked about his own journey of recovery from schizophrenia. He said,

"I was lucky -- I was able to find a psychiatrist who was able to provide me with many of the principles we find have worked in recovery. He believed in me. When I told him, several months after coming out of the hospital the second time with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, that I wanted to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist, he said he would be at my medical school graduation. And about 7 years later, he was there."

In a 2009 interview for the U.K.’s Independent, former schizophrenia patient Eleanor Longden stated,

"My original psychiatrist told me I would have been better off with cancer because it was easier to cure. She still says that to people. What happened to me was catastrophic, and I survived only because of luck. If I had lived one street to the right, I wouldn't have been referred to [innovative psychiatrist] Pat Bracken. That can't be how people's lives are determined."

And so, dear reader, have you noticed the common ingredient in these two remarkable recovery stories?


For way too many people diagnosed with psychotic disorders, recovery depends on luck. We need to remove luck from this equation and replace it with faith and hope and the truth about the real possibility for wholeness and wellness, so that we don’t have to rely on dumb luck. In 2010 I gave a talk for TEDx Columbus about innovative psychiatrists who have successfully helped people overcome psychotic disorders. A link to that talk is provided here on Rossa’s blog. We as a society must demand a new paradigm (or rather, a return to an old one) that helps the mentally and emotionally suffering to get well and stay well.

Who’s with me?

Please listen to Suzanne Beachy's message: TedxTalks What's Next for the Truth?
Any diagnosis of mental illness results in a complicated and uncertain fate for those it strikes. When you lose a son as a result of such a diagnosis, it ignites a search for answers. Suzanne Beachy has gained a perspective on life as a result of her loss but is still asking, what is the truth?


  1. I'm with you Suzanne! Thank you for speaking truth to power! Far too few do; or even understand why it is needed. Bless you for having the grace and fortitude say it like it is.

  2. Thanks for posting this Rossa, it speaks to what I believe with every part of my being.

  3. I was deeply touched by this story. I am so aware that it could have been me mourning my son if it hadn't been for luck. Firstly I knew all about nervous breakdowns, having experienced one at the age of 19 and recovered from it with the support of my parents. So, I didn't believe anything the psychiatrists were spouting and told my son repeatedly not to listen to any of it. Secondly I was lucky to find him in time and get help when he tried to kill himself because of the side effects of the meds he had been forcibly put on. No, no it shouldn't be about luck, these young people deserve proper help, love and tender care and hope.

    Jake's story made me weep. I don't like having to say this, but if I had a child with an old-fashioned "nervous breakdown" I would do just about anything to avoid taking him/her to the average psychiatrist. When I was in my 20's I had a "nervous breakdown." But I had read a couple of books by Dr Carl Jung, and I interpreted my symptoms as a sign of what he called Individuation, or becoming a whole person. Often, he said, this process involves considerable psychological suffering. So I went to a psychiatrist to get some help going through the experience. (Yeh, I know, I was young and naive.) I could see right away that he thought I was already bonkers and off the deep end, so I left his office and went back home, and just kept my mouth shut and toughed it out. Not easy, for sure! But in a few days I got a little better, and instead of talking and getting myself locked up, I did what Jung suggested - I got out my typewriter and wrote about my blazing insights and brilliant ideas. I look back on all this now as the most valuable experience of my life, as I ended up going back to school as a result. I was not only normal, I was better than normal - just as Jung said I would be. And it still seems to me the "medical model" psychiatrists are doing far more harm than good with their abysmal lack of common sense. Too many Jakes have suffered and even died because of them.

  5. Mary - Thanks for commenting. A lot of people need to hear what your experience was and how you dealt with it. I wish I was well schooled in Jung before my son got entangled in the mental health system!


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