Utah Tragedy Distorts View Of Severe Mental Illness

Sergei Babarin and His Victims Caught Up in Nation's Failure to Recognize Brain Disorders as The Medical Conditions They Are

Apr 16 1999

As this country's attention turns to yet another tragic incident involving someone with severe mental illness, millions of Americans who struggle with these disorders and their families agonize over the sensationalized news headlines and the true meaning of this event.

Those who live each day with schizophrenia and other severely disabling mental illnesses recognize that no simple solutions exist for the problems this incident represents. They do know, however, that:

  • Individuals with severe mental illnesses who are receiving treatment are no more prone to violence than the general population. With appropriate medication and support services, the treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60 percent, which is significantly higher than the treatment success rate for heart disease.
  • Fewer than half of individuals with schizophrenia are receiving adequate care, according to a five-year study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
  • Assertive community treatment programs offer the best hope for individuals with the most severe mental illnesses. Utah does not have a single PACT (Program for Assertive Community Treatment), a hospital without walls that provides round-the-clock, highly individualized, multidisciplinary care. Despite the program's repeated and unequaled success and 25 years of confirming research by the National Institute of Mental Health, only a fraction of those who could benefit from this care have access to the services that would allow them to live successfully in our communities.
  • Pervasive stigma and discrimination toward mental illness continue to be the biggest barrier toward people getting the treatment so vital to recovery.

Schizophrenia is a cruel, chronic, and disabling brain disorder that affects more than two million Americans each year. It impairs an individual's ability to think clearly, control emotions, make decisions, or relate to people, including family members. Appropriate interventions make a life-saving difference. The real tragedy is that these interventions are often only available when someone has shown to be dangerous.

As those of us who have been personally affected by this disorder know only too well, something went terribly wrong in the case of Sergei Babarin. Dead wrong.

With more than 208,000 members, NAMI is the nation's leading grassroots advocacy organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and severe anxiety disorders.