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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Several years ago, you asked readers who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia to write and describe their experiences with the mental health system for the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry. We received hundreds of candid, thoughtful and provocative letters, and while their treatment and reactions were diverse, many shared similar experiences.

They described their struggle with a terrible and frightening illness and the importance of their own inner strengths, as well as support from mental health professionals, family, friends, religion and work. What was vital was feeling cared-for, respected and listened-to by a knowledgeable doctor (or other professional), who would stick with them over the long haul.

Many readers complained that their care was hindered by insurance limitations, restrictive agency policies and insensitive or unskilled clinicians.

There were many inspirational letters about lifesaving care, yet we physicians were appalled by how often treatment was perceived as impersonal, fragmented and dehumanizing. Without social, personal, residential and vocational supports, medications rarely helped. However, we were touched and impressed that so many of your readers were resourceful in overcoming the limitations of their illnesses.

Stigma and prejudice from medical professionals, institutions and the general public were additional obstacles to recovery. Dozens of letters contained painful stories saying that being regarded as mentally ill slowed the person's progress. It is essential that people with mental illness be seen as capable human beings, who are much more than the illnesses with which they struggle.

Reading the letters was enlightening. In response, we have written a report, "Now That We Are Listening," summarizing important issues in treating schizophrenia and providing excerpts of some of the letters. The report is free to your readers.

Thank you for helping us and other psychiatrists to understand how our patients feel about their care. -– THE COMMITTEE ON PSYCHIATRY AND THE COMMUNITY GROUP FOR ADVANCEMENT OF PSYCHIARTY

DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND DEAR READERS: A great many medical consumers would love the chance to air their feelings about how they have been treated by "the system." Thank YOU for allowing my readers to level with you. I had the opportunity to review many of the letters readers sent to assist your study. While it came as no surprise that patients were willing to tell me things they wouldn't ordinarily tell their doctors, I was struck by their frankness.

Those interested in obtaining a copy of the booklet, "Now That We Are Listening," may do so by sending name and address to: McKassen, Attn: Maria Harryn, 800 Business Center Drive, Suite 100, Horsham, PA 19044. Be sure to include the title of the booklet with your request.

DEAR ABBY: I'm sending an original to add to your "you know you're getting older when ..." collection. It came to mind when I read about applications being submitted to have the Coliseum in Memphis and a local bridge spanning the Mississippi River, added to the register:

"You know you're getting old when a structure built during your lifetime is added to the National Registry of Historic Places." -– ELMER L. RAY, MARION, ARK.

DEAR ELMER: Your contribution is a hoot. I'm guessing many of our friends and neighbors will squirm each year when new additions to the Registry are announced. Your definition fits more of us than many would like to admit.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $7.90 ($9 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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