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Community Comment

Sat., Sept. 19, 2009, 9:07 a.m.

Cure the disease, not the symptoms…

Good morning, Netizens...

Lately we have seen several situations arise in the Spokane area involving the mentally ill in the news, with the most-recent being Phillip A. Paul's escape from a poorly-organized day out for mental health patients from Eastern State Hospital at the Spokane Interstate Fair.

The single universal cachet to Paul's escape and the nearly mass hysteria it engendered, however, is that sensationalism sells news and it pushes blog numbers higher than they normally would go, which I believe shows society's lack of awareness of the needs of the mentally ill. Hardly anyone cares how it feels to be a schizophrenic, which is the malady from which Paul has suffered for many years. Even fewer people understand that schizophrenics can be unpredictable, even after they have been under what appeared to have been long-term treatment programs, such as are employed by Eastern State Hospital. They can appear quite normal one day; the next day totally irrational.

Of course, one cannot presume that the drug treatments used by psychiatric professionals are necessarily either going to work or, in worse cases, are even tolerated by their patients. I remember about 15 years ago an Eastern Patient was released from the wards at Eastern and almost immediately stopped taking his medication. His words at the time still haunt me.

He stated, “The damned drugs they give me make me sicker than I already am. They make me feel like an alien, and I think I'd rather be a schizophrenic.”

This was the same man who, for most of the time I knew him, persisted in wearing a priests collar and ministering to the mentally ill, sometimes with phenomenally-positive results. On his “good days” when his personality was nearly-normal, he volunteered quite successfully at a plethora of agencies throughout Spokane, and appeared to actually have a very uplifting and energetic effect on some of the mentally ill to whom he ministered. On his “bad days” often when he had stopped taking his medications, he became an accused child molester and often encouraged others in his flock of mental health patients to stop taking their medications as well.

When the police arrested him, it merited a small column in the B section of the paper, and in those days there were no blogs to talk candidly and openly about his afflictions. On the other hand, I never forgot the hope he engendered in some of his “flocks” lives where none had existed before.

Perhaps what the strange case of Phillip A. Paul demonstrates more than the incompetence of the people in charge at Eastern State Hospital is that the schizophrenics of this world need hope that someday someone will find a cure for this wretched disease.


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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.