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When Medicine Got It Wrong

Schizophrenia affects 2.4 million American adults. Until the 1970s it was believed that parents — specifically, mothers — caused the disease. That changed when a small group of middle-class San Mateo parents got fed up, got organized, and spoke out.

We failed to understand why parents of a child with leukemia were treated with sympathy and understanding, while parents of a child with schizophrenia were treated with scorn and condemnation.” 

— Eve Oliphant, 1977 speech, World Congress of Psychiatry

Schizophrenia affects 2.4 million American adults. Until the 1970s it was believed that parents — specifically, mothers — caused the disease. That changed when a small group of middle-class San Mateo parents got fed up, got organized, and spoke out.

Their grassroots activism initiated a nationwide movement, uniting other families to fight for better treatment and prompting worldwide changes in psychiatry’s understanding of the disease. When Medicine Got it Wrong gives voice to the set of families who boldly took on California’s fractured mental health system, policy-making, and American culture at large. Their stories expose the dark roots of today’s problems with rampant homelessness and incarceration among people who suffer from severe and untreated mental illnesses.

Rita Moreno narrates this medical and human rights saga. California Humanities awarded Katie Cadigan’s documentary an $80,000 grant in 2006 for production, and a $10,000 public engagement grant in 2010.

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