Schizophrenia and Public Policy

August 10, 1998
We've all seen them, walking in the park, muttering to themselves, even shouting at passers-by. They are mentally unstable people on the streets. We hope they don't pose a danger to us, but unfortunately some do.

Many of them are schizophrenics, who may be harmless or may pose a dangerous threat. One threatening person that comes to mind is the convicted unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Another made the news recently: Russell Eugene Weston, the man who burst into the Capitol and killed two police officers. The fact that men like Russell Weston walk the streets is a testament to a political deal struck a number of years ago.

Schizophrenia is a mental disease characterized by the deterioration (not splitting) of the personality. Routine hospitalization took place until the late 1960s and early 1970s when a unexpected alliance between liberals and conservatives changed standard policy. A number of prominent civil libertarians claimed schizophrenia was not an illness at all, but a courageous reaction to political oppression. Novels like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest proclaimed that mental patients were rugged individualists who could be managed through community outreach centers.

This liberal idea found favor with conservatives tired of footing the bill for state hospitals who were all too willing to close large asylums. Soon patients were at the mercy of hastily conceived, short-term outpatient programs. When patients did not show up for their voluntary counseling, the programs were shut down.

Forty years ago, Russell Weston would have been committed to a mental hospital. Today he roamed the streets and eventually killed two people. It's time to reconsider our policy toward schizophrenics. Christian compassion requires that we give them treatment and get them off the streets before someone else is killed.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.

© 1998 Probe Ministries International