In May 2014, three days before graduating from college in Massachusetts, Ross Calvert (name changed for privacy), a quiet, artsy guy whose hopeful eyes and side-parted mop lend him some of the cherubic quirkiness of a Wes Anderson protagonist, had a bad acid trip from which his brain somehow failed to come back. His best friend’s face kept looking weird and sinister. Passing strangers seemed to be whispering about his appearance, his mannerisms, his thoughts. Ross managed to keep it more or less together when his family arrived for his graduation, but for the next several months, voices came in and out of his head in a constant swell. One evening, Ross locked himself in the bathroom of the house he shared with friends just outside Boston and refused to come out. After exhausting all other avenues, his friends finally called the police, who broke down the door, hauled Ross out to a squad car, and delivered him to the hospital, where he was stripped of his clothes and belongings, forcibly administered antipsychotic medication, and confined to the psych ward.
The conventional view of psychosis in modern Western medicine is that it is essentially biological in nature. The focus is on rapid diagnosis and medication. Involuntary hospitalization remains common, despite evidence that it can often be avoided through early intervention involving families and psychotherapy. In one small but suggestive study, involuntary hospitalization induced post-traumatic stress disorder in 31% of patients.
“When I first saw Ross, it was almost as if there were a pane of glass between us,” says David Medeiros, the therapist who Ross’s parents brought him to after he got out. “His speech was delayed. And then every time there was another hospitalization, it felt like another glass was put in place.”
In March 2016, two days after yet another hospital release, Ross spiraled into another crisis. Again the police delivered him to the hospital. Again he was confined to the psych ward and forcibly medicated. This time he received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
It was a devastating blow for Ross, his family, and his therapist. Between 85% and 90% of schizophrenic patients are unemployed in the United States, one of the most difficult places on Earth to live with the diagnosis. In a 1992 World Health Organization study of schizophrenia that continues to spark controversy in the field, patients in developing countries healed and went into remission at significantly higher rates than their counterparts in developed countries like the United States.