Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

Schaler, J.A. (1998, August 22). Mental-health parity. The Philadelphia Inquirer, A12

Mental-health parity

Loretta H. Ferry, president of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Pennsylvania, confuses brain and mind (Letters, Aug. 15).

If "mental illness" is really a brain disease, it would be listed as such in standard textbooks on pathology. It is not listed as a brain disease because it does not meet the nosological criteria for disease classification. On that basis alone, Gov. Ridge should veto the parity bill in Pennsylvania. Discrimination against the "mentally ill" has nothing to do with it. Mental illness is a metaphorical disease, not a literal one. It can no more be "treated" than can a "sick" joke.

Moreover, parity creates a legal slippery slope. Since there are no objective tests for "mental illness," all kinds of socially unacceptable behaviors will be declared "mental illnesses." This gives families a guilt-free opportunity to get rid of disturbing relatives in the name of compassion. It gives mental-health professionals a money-making opportunity to peddle their wares in the name of "treatment." And it gives social parasites and predators an opportunity to avoid responsibility for their behaviors.

Legislators and the general public should not be hoodwinked. If mental illness is identical to physical illness, wouldn't it make sense to say cancer and diabetes are the same as schizophrenia and drug addiction?

The bottom line is this: Behaviors cannot be diseases. Mental illness is a contradiction in terms. Mental illness is a myth.

Jeffrey A. Schaler
Adjunct Professor of Psychology
Chestnut Hill College

Responses to Dr. Schaler's letter above that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on August 27, 1998:

Mental illnesses, biologically based and treatable []

Numerous major studies have shown that brain chemistry, structure and functioning are altered in people with a serious mental illnesses. Severe mental illnesses are biologically based, which allows them to be diagnosed and treated as effectively as other physical conditions. In comparison, treatment efficacy rates for heart diseases range from 41 percent to 52 percent, 60 percent for schizophrenia, 65 percent for major depression, 80 percent for bipolar disorder, 75 percent for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and 80 percent for panic disorder.

Jeffrey A. Schaler's characterization of the mentally ill as "social parasites and predators" trying to avoid responsibility for their behavior is totally misguided (Letters, Aug. 22). The mentally ill are you and I, relatives and friends experiencing real pain with diagnosable symptoms. They are seeking equal access to treatment that would help them become productive members of society. We fail to see how seeking treatment for a mental illness makes one a "social parasite," any more than seeking treatment for cancer would.

Several states and major corporations have already given the mentally ill access to equal health-insurance coverage and have seen the economic benefits. Hopefully, Pennsylvania will enact a parity bill so the mentally ill will no longer be treated as second-class citizens.

Frank Eichhorn
Judith Long Co-Presidents
Northeast Philadelphia Affiliate Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Denying the reality of severe brain disease betrays malicious disregard of human agony or an astonishing ignorance dangerous to society and criminally cruel to sufferers (Letters, Aug. 22).

Brain imaging, case studies and published scientific research have established that mental illness results from a complex intermingling of abnormal chemistry, triggering mechanisms and genetics. It is an aberrant biochemical process in the neurotransmitters of the brain: a depletion of certain chemicals and the increase of a hormone; an alternate drenching and deprivation; a ferocious brain storm that plunges the victim into anguish, confusion, cosmic loneliness and unstoppable terror.

It is mind-stopping to think anyone except an overpaid insurance lobbyist could label mental illness a myth. To their credit, many insurers and enlightened officials know better.

Violet Cornish
Washington Crossing

In response to Jeffrey A. Schaler, who states that mental illness is not a physical illness but a myth (Letters, Aug. 22), I would ask this question: As the brain is a physical part of the body, why would it not become ill just as any other part of the body develops illness? He is correct that behaviors are not illnesses; they are symptoms.

As someone who has worked with mentally ill people for 25 years, I cannot believe that Schaler has ever even known a person with mental illness or he would not have been capable of producing such a letter.

Mental illness kills just like other illnesses. It leaves families devastated. Perhaps the thought that we could "lose our minds" to these illnesses is so frightening that it is easier to deny their existence and blame the victims.

Joanne Stiteler
Psychiatric Social Worker
Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania