More than forty years ago, during my brother Robert’s first long-term hospitalization for mental illness, my mother would often cry out, “Someday they’ll discover that it was all chemical! You’ll see. Some day they’ll discover that it was all chemical.”
The corollary was clear: if the illness was chemical, then the cure might be chemical too-magic bullets that would not only cure my brother’s illness, but assuage my mother’s guilt. So overwhelming was that guilt that a few years later she left New York City and my brother, and for the remaining twenty years of her life saw him only twice.
Through the first thirty-seven years of his illness-until 1999-Robert was hospitalized more than fifty times, and his longest time outside a hospital was two years. Since 1999, he has not been hospitalized for even a single day. Now sixty-three years old, he lives in a supervised residence, gets around New York City on his own, works five days a week at Fountain House (a community mental-health center), attends family gatherings, and has a life far better than any predicted for him by professionals even a few years ago.
What has made the difference is good care-the staff at his residence is wonderfully attentive to him-and medications. He is on moderate doses of two antipsychotic drugs, and they help control symptoms that were previously out of control. Yet the medications are not without side effects: he is...