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Crazy Priorities

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To the editors:

I read with extreme interest Robert McClory's article about militant mental patients [Our Town, May 29].

I am in agreement with his conclusion that there are no easy answers to mentally ill people who need medication to stabilize their lives, and the problems of an uncaring and uninformed society.

Let's consider for a moment an aspect of the mental illness question which McClory's article did not treat: research into the causes and cure of these diseases and especially of schizophrenia.

Our group, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), is dedicated to development of resources to fund research in this area.

We recently announced a quarter million dollars in grants to researchers who are studying the diseases. Our goal is to raise $10 million within three years.

At the present time, shockingly little money is expended in the search for the causes of schizophrenia. For each victim of the disease, the total is about $7.35 a year. A comparable figure for each cancer patient is $203; for each heart patient, $88.

Worse, while 42 percent of cancer research is funded from nongovernmental sources, only 15 percent of mental illness research is privately funded--despite estimates that mental illness costs the nation's economy tens of billions of dollars a year.

Not only is this lack of response inhumane, it is also economically irresponsible. Patients with mental illnesses occupy 25 percent of all beds in our hospitals--more beds than for the victims of heart disease, cancer, and respiratory ailments combined.

Nor is there a lack of hope in this area. Recent developments in basic research show great promise. There is evidence that genetic defects are at work in some types of mental illness. And new technology promises more and more revealing research methods.

We agree with McClory the history of treatment of mental illness is appalling. Whether it was the barbaric, locked-ward approach of the 1800s or the "deinstitutionalization" that has turned those with mental illnesses into street people, our society has shown no inclination to deal fairly and forthrightly with these most unfortunate people.

As a mother who lost her 22-year-old son to schizophrenia, I can attest personally to the devastation of the disease on the victim and family. I have turned my grief (and anger) into action and am dedicated to calling public attention to the cause.

Unfortunately, in an era of budgetary cutbacks and general retrenchment, we see little hope that people with schizophrenia soon will be offered any kind of effective care system. Rather, we pin our hopes on finding the causes of their diseases and, ultimately, a cure.

Let's solve the problem while dealing with its results.

Anyone interested in more information about NARSAD and our work may contact me at 208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1427, Chicago, IL 60604, telephone 312/782-4311.

Gwill Newman

NARSAD

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