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Shrink tells of own victory over illness

by Archives October 2, 2002

Calling himself “the psychotic psychologist”, Frederick Frese spoke at the 2002 Low-Beer Lecture about the prospects and experiences of recovery from schizophrenia, both from his own perspective and as a mental health professional.

The Low-Beer Foundation, organized by the psychology department at Concordia and Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Quebec, sponsored the lecture.

Frese’s astonishing story is simply this: 30 years ago, he was locked up in an Ohio mental hospital, dazed and delusional, with paranoid schizophrenia. Twelve years later, he became the chief psychologist for the very mental hospital in which he had been confined.

Despite ten further hospitalizations, he married, had four children and earned a PhD in psychology. He now holds faculty appointments at Case Western Reserve University and Northern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

His intelligent and wryly delivered lecture had the packed house in H-110 mesmerized. “One reason nobody knows about recovery is that most folks don’t tell anybody because the stigma is too great,” he said.

The story Frese told depicts him at rock bottom, screaming for water, trapped in a room with no toilet, and guarded by attendants who would not let him out even to go to the bathroom.

Then, transferred to a veterans’ administration hospital, Frese was put on medication to control his delusions. He pointed out that in many cases going on medication is first step to recovery, and often the easiest. Living in society is the difficult part.

“We’ve been pathologized and ostracized and rejected by regular society, and they tend to give us labels like chronically mentally ill,” Frese said. “With greater awareness we hope the road to recovery will be easier.”

These days, Frese directs the Summit County (Ohio) Recovery Project, a program to help mentally ill people find jobs and fight discrimination. He is also active in the Campaign to End Discrimination, a new five-year effort by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Recently, he spoke at the Senate Committee on Veteran affairs that expect to pass a bill that would increase funding to hospitals for the mentally ill in Ohio.

“As I often say, in my 30 years with schizophrenia, there’s never been a better time to be a person with serious mental illness. There’s more hope than ever before.”

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