Speaker (Fred Frese) surmounted his own mental illness

Schizophrenia Update, October 2002

Montreal Gazette

September 23, 2002 Monday Final Edition


Twelve years after he was declared insane and committed to an Ohio state hospital at 25, dazed and delusional with paranoid schizophrenia, Fred Frese was promoted to chief psychologist at the largest hospital in the system that had confined him.

Despite repeated hospitalizations over a 10-year period, he was able to hold jobs, he married, had children and earned a master's and doctoral degree.

Among his accomplishments, Frese, now 61, holds university faculty appointments, has published extensively and is a longtime activist on behalf of people with serious mental illnesses. Since retiring from the hospital in 1995, he has traveled extensively, sharing his experience of living successfully with an often-devastating mental illness. He'll be in Montreal on Wednesday.

Schizophrenia, believed to result from a combination of biological and environmental factors, typically develops between the ages of 17 and 25. Classic symptoms include an inability to separate fantasy from reality and the hearing of inner voices.

Historically, schizophrenia was viewed as a degenerative disorder from which no one recovered. In recent years, however, the notion that recovery is possible has gained momentum.

"With mental illness, we can't talk about cure," said Ella Amir, executive director of AMI-Quebec, a support group for families living with mental illness.

"I think recovering is a process which is ongoing, which may involve some relapses along the way. It is not something you do and finish doing. Recovery means putting an accent on what these people can do."

Frese considers himself recovering, not recovered. "My experience is that mental illness is much more analogous to diabetes," he said. "With proper care you can function in a normal mode, but you always have vulnerabilities."

In A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe portrayed mathematician John Nash who, like Frese, emerged from the stranglehold of paranoid schizophrenia. Frese liked that the film showed that "a person with the disorder can make significant contributions." Just as he has.



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