Unawareness Is Widespread
To the editor:
In “Nowhere to Turn When the Mentally Ill Refuse Treatment” [Nov. 10, page A7], you reported on the case of Adam Howe, who killed his mother and then himself.
“What’s clear,” you wrote, “is that Howe suffered from anosognosia, a condition associated with dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis.”
Anosognosia, an unawareness, is far more common than that. The Cleveland Clinic defines anosognosia as “a condition where you can’t recognize other health conditions or problems that you have.”
We live lives of anosognosia about many of our prejudices. We denied awareness of the harm of segregation while devoting ourselves to it.
For centuries, we denied awareness of what was occurring in state mental institutions, pretending with our language that they were “hospitals.” We gave them bucolic names, outfitted their employees with nurses’ uniforms, and ignored the realities. “Ignored” is not strong enough a word. We assiduously denied reality. Through actual practice, the term “asylum” became its own antonym: a place of horror, not safety.
The results of our behavior are widespread. Primary among them is our continued lack of knowledge of the illnesses we call, out of erroneous habit, “mental.” The ethic we apply to those illnesses falls far beneath the ethic we apply to the illnesses we call “physical” and to which we offer respect, leaving, as your headline suggests, nowhere to turn.
Harold A. Maio
Fort Myers, Fla.
The writer is a retired mental health editor.
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