NAMI-Yolo, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, invites local residents to its flagship event of the year — the Pat Williams Mental Health Dinner, slated for Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St. in Davis.
The keynote speaker, psychologist Frederick J. Frese, Ph.D., will speak on “Recovery from Schizophrenia: New Views.” Frese has had a distinguished career in public mental health care and is a well-known advocate for the rights of people with mental illness.
Frese was a young Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War and a graduate student when he started experiencing the classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia: delusions, hearing voices, inability to separate fact from fantasy, inability to think logically, an all-consuming paranoia. He came to believe that enemy nations had hypnotized American leaders in a plot to destroy the United States.
He was hospitalized; the first of what would be 11 such institutionalizations. But he also completed graduate school and earned a doctorate in psychology from Ohio University. He married, had four children, and 12 years after his first hospitalization, he became a chief psychologist for the Ohio mental health system.
A psychology faculty member in the departments of psychiatry at two medical schools, a frequent speaker, a former board member and vice president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and a longtime clinician at a major psychiatric hospital, Frese would seem to have covered, and recovered, much ground since the days when he was first diagnosed in 1966.
Recovery from severe mental illness is a relatively new concept. Schizophrenia has long been considered a chronic, neurodegenerative disease. Yet some people do improve considerably over time, raising questions about both the definition of the disease and the meaning of the word “recovery.”
Until the 1950s, when medications were developed to help ease the symptoms of schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses, it was believed that a diagnosis meant inevitable deterioration into unresolved dementia, according to Frese
In the 1960s and ’70s, medication became more widely used, and mental health professionals began to view severe mental illness as treatable with drugs and therapy, what is commonly referred to as the rehabilitation model. Still, the focus was on the mentally ill person as a patient.
It has only been in the very recent past that recovery from mental illness has been deemed possible, Frese said. That shift occurred largely because those who have experienced mental illness began to advocate for themselves and demand a voice in their own treatments.
“The essence of the recovery model is focus on that individual in their own journey toward recovery, and respect for that,” Frese said.
Since his diagnosis, Frese has been treated with medications, gotten better, and relapsed from time to time.
“It is not accurate to characterize anyone who is subject to symptoms as fully recovered,” Frese said. “I don’t characterize myself as recovered, but recovering.”
To this day, he said, he continues to experience symptoms. Yet he has also compiled a record of professional and personal achievement that many would envy.
Tickets for the dinner, catered by The Buckhorn, are $40 general, $10 for students and $3 for mental health consumers. Attendees and others also are asked to help cover the cost of dinners for mental health consumers at $25 each. Tickets may be purchased at the door, or checks can be made payable to NAMI-Yolo and sent to P.O. Box 447, Davis, CA 95617.
Advance reservation with payment is strongly recommended as this event is expected to sell out.
For more information, call 530-756-8181 or visit www.namiyolo.org.