“I think that’s exactly what he had. I believe that my son Chris, over the course of repeated breakdowns, lost his capacity to understand his illness so he went off his meds. That’s when we lost him for good. He never took meds again. He ultimately chose to take his life rather than take medication.” — Cathy Weaver, Austin, Texas
People with anosognosia have a real neurological condition caused by damage to the brain, most likely in the frontal and parietal lobes.
Because of this condition, they can’t recognize that they are sick.
Anosognosia is associated with many diseases.
Some people with strokes, brain tumours, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s disease suffer from this same lack of insight.
It’s very clear that about half the people with schizophrenia and roughly 40% of people with bipolar disorder have some degree of anosognosia. In other words, they don’t recognize their own illness. We recognize this for Alzheimer’s disease but we seem to have trouble recognizing that this is also common for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Russell Weston is one tragic example. Mr. Weston came to Washington D.C. to “save the world from cannibals” and killed two Capitol Police officers while in this delusional state.
Weston was not taking medication because he did not believe he was sick.
County judge, Polly Jackson Spencer developed the first-of-its-kind outpatient commitment program in Texas. She saw the devastation caused when the severely mentally ill are too sick to seek treatment and end up trapped in a revolving door of incarceration, homelessness, hospitalization and victimization.
“You can’t simply tell someone who has a mental illness and is disorganized in their thinking, ‘Hey, you’ve got a doctor’s appointment in three weeks and it’s ten miles from here, these are the different buses you need to take to get there, and don’t forget to go’ and assume that they’re going to make that. That’s just not going to happen.” —Polly Jackson Spencer, County Judge
Judge Oscar Kazen supervises the day-to-day operations of Bexar County’s court-ordered outpatient treatment program. He meets regularly with patients, psychiatrists, and staff.
“When I sit in that little courtroom, down in the basement of that abandoned hospital, the guy who sits at the end of the chair—that mentally ill patient—didn’t have a choice. He didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘I want to lose my life, I want to lose my sanity.’ These people had no choice in the matter and it’s our responsibility to bring them back to sanity.” — Oscar Kazen, Judge
Anosognosia is the number one reason why people fail to seek treatment.
It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that they are able to get treatment.
Learn more about anosognosia at treatmentadvocacycenter.org
Video by the Treatment Advocacy Center.