Tag: Jimmy Carter


55 Steps

October 24th, 2018 — 12:37am

****

55 STEPS

This film which is based on a true story, features two outstanding performances by well-known actresses who are on the screen together, probably more than 90% of the movie. Helena Bonham Carter plays Eleanor Riese, a young woman with a mental illness who is depicted as receiving potentially dangerous psychiatric medications against her will in a mental hospital. Hilary Swank plays Colette Hughes, the diligent attorney, two-year out of law school, who along with Mort Cohen, a law professor, played by Jeffrey Tambor, takes on Reise’s case and changes California State Law so that involuntary injection of medication is not allowed under certain circumstances. In the course of this moving story, the attorney and the patient become friends.

Unfortunately, one of us (MB) could not allow himself to simply enjoy this moving story and ultimate important legal battle. The reason being that I am a psychiatrist who has seen the evolution of the treatment of involuntary hospitalized patients and the role that anti-psychotic drugs have played in their care. I had to consider the context of the history of the treatment of the mentally ill in this country. Prior to the 1960s and 1907s, there were mental hospitals all over the country with more than half a million patients who were hospitalized against their will because of severe psychosis (being out of touch with reality often with hallucinations and delusions). In the 1950s, a drug named Thorazine was developed, which could put psychosis into remission. Although this drug could have significant side effects, this medication made a tremendous difference in hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives. Between 1955 and 1994, 487,000 patients were discharged, leaving about 70,000 patients in state mental hospitals. In fact, most state mental hospitals were eventually closed. When I first stepped onto a psychiatric unit as a psychiatry resident in 1966, the newest antipsychotic drugs had not yet been developed and the drugs of choice was still Thorazine and similar medications. It would not be for another 20 years that much safer antipsychotic drugs were developed and put into use. However, the treatment with these medications was effective enough that in the 1970s, with the help of President Jimmy Carter outpatient clinics replaced most of the hospitalized psychiatric treatment in this country. With the development of new antipsychotic medications in the 1990s, there also were much safer medication treatment with many fewer side effects.

However, to this day, patients who are considered to be a danger to themselves or others (which will often include being out of touch with reality by responding to imaginary voices or to delusional ideas) can still be hospitalized against their will. We saw in this movie that the Eleanor Riese case brought about a change in the California law as the State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that patients who are involuntarily committed to health facilities for short-term crisis may refuse to take antipsychotic medication. There is an exception that allows for involuntary medication if the patient is deemed “incompetent to make such a decision by the courts.” There was also the exception for emergency medications, meaning medication that is used for patients who are “considered an eminent danger to themselves or others either physically or psychologically and refuse to take the medication freely.” Of course, you can also be hospitalized against your will on the same grounds for people who are suicidal. All this only pertains to the State of California. Other states may have slightly different laws. I apologize for the technical psychiatric details, but I know that many of the readers of this blog are related to the mental health field and would want these things clarified. There should be one more detail concerning the real character portrayed in the movie. The young woman may not have had schizophrenia. It was mentioned that when she was younger, she had a brain infection related to a shunt put in her brain and she subsequently had some intellectual deficiencies. This may have been the cause of her depicted mental abnormalities.

Returning to the film, which was done very well and was quite moving. The viewers developed a feeling of understanding and empathy as well as admiration for both of the main characters. There also is a very interesting back story about the making of the film, which we learned about in a post-film discussion with the author and producer, Mark Bruce Rosin. He originally came up with the script 25 years ago when he heard a radio program about Ms. Riese and her lawyer who was fighting for her rights to refuse medication. The movie was almost made by two different studios, but it was ultimately dropped until it eventually came to be made with the director Billie August and now will be released nationwide in the next few weeks. Despite some of unaddressed complexity of issues raided in the film, it was one that will grab you and cause to think and is well worth seeing. (2018)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Countdown to Zero

September 8th, 2010 — 6:21am

Countdown To Zero* * *
Countdown to Zero
– sp – When I was a youngster I was keenly aware of the eminent threat of nuclear disaster that could wipe us out at any moment. We had drills in school where we would duck under our desks and run away from the window, as if that could protect us from a nuclear blast. But once the cold war ended, the idea that an Atomic or Hydrogen Bomb could destroy our cities or end our lives was not a concern. Even when the news reported that Iran was trying to become a nuclear power, my anxiety was not raised and I never thought that my life, the safety of my family or our country’s well being was in jeopardy. That is until I saw this documentary film written and directed by Lucy Walker and produced and edited by a crackerjack experienced team. They skillfully build the film around the words of John F. Kennedy who proclaimed in a speech in 1961, “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.” The filmmakers then show us dramatic movie clips of such events as near nuclear accidents where five of six safety devices failed, lost atomic weapons, both American and Russian governments misinterpreting data and being seconds away from launching a retaliatory nuclear strike against an imagined attack on their country. There are interviews with former CIA agent Valerie Plume, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmie Carter, Tony Blair, and Robert MacNamara in the last interview before he died, which all discuss the serious dangers that nuclear weapons pose today. The film shows how easy it is to make a nuclear bomb, how destructive it can be and how terrorists are very hot to make one and use it. The film pulls no punches and certainly can scare the living daylights out of you. The goal of this documentary and the various sponsors of the film are encompassed in the title, “Countdown to Zero” with the subtitle ” Demand Zero”. It is worth noting that JFK followed up the quote mentioned above with the statement, “The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.” The filmmakers believe that if the people all over the world demand nuclear disarmament, it will happen. This documentary certainly makes their point and one of their principle producers, Participant Media makes suggestions on their web site: http://www.takepart.com/countdowntozero as to how to get this conversation started. This film will also eventually be shown on the History Channel, which is one of the backers of it, and I also hope it will end up in many schools to pass on this message to new generations who will have to finish the job of nuclear disarmament. (2010)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

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