Sunday, January 19, 2003

Alive and well

Mental illness no cause for failure


In 1965, 1st Lt. Frederick Frese made a remarkable discovery. He was 25, a college graduate and completing his obligation for a military-funded education by serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. His role, at the Jacksonville, Fla., facility was to guard atomic weapons. It was on the job that his finding occurred.

By sophisticated use of hypnosis, enemy nations were beginning to control several high-ranking American officials. The conspiracy endangered the security of the weapons he guarded and jeopardized the security of the American people.

Recognizing that it was essential to turn the information over to someone with more expertise in hypnosis, he sought counsel with the base psychiatrist. Pretty much immediately, he was hospitalized.

What: Eighth annual Inclusion Leadership Awards dinner, Dr. Frederick J. Frese, keynote speaker
When: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 30
Where: Paul Brown Stadium.
Tickets: $45; reservations 345-1330
The explanation for his Jacksonville discovery - which of course, was not true - was paranoid schizophrenia. Over the next decade, delusions and inner voices tortured him into situations that led to temporary residence in psychiatric wards - even jails.

Paranoid schizophrenia is one of the most disabling of mental illnesses. It can manifest itself as a seamless relationship between fantasy and reality, a loss of logical thinking and inability to connect with others.

But his hope for a productive life was far from over when he endured that initial hospitalization. The tally of this one man's accomplishments in the past 30 years is remarkable, with or without disability.

With master's and doctoral degrees in psychology from Ohio University, he holds faculty appointments in psychology at Case Western Reserve and Northeast Ohio College of Medicine and has taught at numerous other universities.

On Jan. 30, he will be the keynote speaker at the Inclusion Leadership Awards dinner.

He is married, the father of four children, and is well aware that he is in recovery, that a relapse is always possible.

For years, Dr. Frese followed the frequent admonition never to disclose his medical history under any circumstances.

"The insane can not take over the asylum," he says.

Thus, ironically, he was more than once employed in facilities where he had been a patient. In 1968, for example, he was committed (delusional and hearing voices) to the Columbus State Hospital. Twelve years later he was chief psychologist for the same mental health system.

In the 1980s, Dr. Frese decided that such secrecy was nonsense.

"I was teaching a class in the graduate program at Kent State University," he recalls, "and I asked if anybody had ever been locked up in a psychiatric hospital. No one responded and I said, `Well, I guess I'm the only one standing here.'"

From that first public admission, his approach has been complete openness and a concerted effort to eliminate discrimination against people with mental illness.

We've come a long way in our social understanding and medical treatment of the disorder. Medication is key to managing schizophrenia, and medical professionals are more cognizant of the side affects of medications as well.

"We no longer have the `Let's talk about your mother therapy,'" Dr. Frese says. "In fact, talk therapy can actually be more disruptive than helpful at times."

Dr. Frese is a symbol of hope to others with mental illness, proof that a diagnosis of mental illness does not have to be a sentence of stigmatized existence, homelessness or menial labor. He is funny, compassionate and has a rich family life and successful career. Still, he says, schizophrenia doesn't go away.

"It's episodic," he says. "Antipsychotic medications diminish the probability of episodes, but they don't eliminate possibility."

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430;

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