Truly CA

KQED Newsletters


Get regular updates on great programs and events

More from KQED

When Medicine Got it Wrong

See a preview of this Truly CA episode.

Narrated by Rita Moreno, When Medicine Got it Wrong is the groundbreaking story of a small group of loving California families in the 1970s who challenged the commonly-held belief that schizophrenogenic parents caused schizophrenia. Angry at being blamed for an illness they knew was not their fault, mothers and fathers in San Mateo, California started Parents of Adult Schizophrenics (PAS) and began fighting for better understanding and treatment.

The story starts in 1974, and centers on two families -- the Oliphants and Hoffmans -- whose sons developed schizophrenia in their teens. Doctors told the boys that their parents were the cause of their problems. Medical records labeled each child as the "identified patient" in a dysfunctional family structure wherein the parents were more psychologically ill than the family member exhibiting delusional and psychotic symptoms. The cure: separation from the parents. The boys were institutionalized at Napa State Hospital, and the parents were warned that visits would be detrimental to their sons' chances of recovery.

When Medicine Got it Wrong shows how these families transcended extreme cultural shame to go public with their stories -- first by forming PAS, and then openly challenging doctors to recognize the medical nature of their children's ailment. The Oliphants and Hoffmans prompted researchers to question their assumptions about schizophrenia's etiology. Their passion inspired parents across the country to organize and lobby for research and more appropriate, compassionate care.

Their passion paid off: by the end of the 1970s neuroscience was investigating causes outside of family dysfunction and interpersonal relationships. Rapid discoveries in the next decades revolutionized medicine's understanding of these brain diseases. By the mid-1980s, textbooks dropped the term "schizophrenogenic," and in the 1990s pharmaceutical companies introduced the first new generation of medication in decades. Finally, these families began to see hope for their children.

The parents featured in When Medicine Got it Wrong waged their battles in an era when mental hospitals were shutting down and the most severely mentally ill were turned over to community care. Yet in the community, virtually no treatment centers would take in severely ill patients because, ironically, these patients' were too sick to participate in therapy. Many became homeless and their untreated symptoms often resulted in bizarre behavior, senseless crimes and ultimately incarceration.

When Medicine Got it Wrong addresses misconceptions about severe mental illness head-on and provides historical context for our contemporary mental health care crisis. Through the perspective of families, audiences share in the continued struggle for better understanding and care for some of California's most vulnerable citizens.

To order a DVD of When Medicine Got it Wrong, please call Documentary Educational Resources at (800) 569-6621 or go to

[Original air date: Sun, May 10, 2009]

This program is not currently scheduled for broadcast.

Filmmaker Profiles:

Katie Cadigan

Read more about Katie Cadigan, filmmaker of When Medicine Got it Wrong.

Laura Murray

Read more about Laura Murray, filmmaker of When Medicine Got it Wrong.


When Medicine Got it Wrong: Crew & Credits

Produced, Written & Directed by
Katie Cadigan
Laura Murray

Laura Murray

Director of Photography
Tamara Goldsworthy

Music by
William Susman

Sound Recording
Laura Murray
Misho Stawnychy
Lauretta Molitor
Doug Dunderdale

Additional Photography
Laura Murray
Michael Chin

Production Manager
Sandi Williams

Associate Producer (Post Production)
Sam Karp

Archival Research
Steven Deichen

Mark Vickers
Katie Cadigan

Eve Oliphant
Brett Oliphant
Pamela Daniele
Julie Hoffman
Ed Hoffman
Anna Hoffman-Fessler
Marian Russell
Terry Walker
Steve Walker
Carol Palacio
Brian Palacio
Dr. Richard Lamb
Dr. Herbert Pardes
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey
Art Bolton
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo
Stella March
Bosworth Todd
Phyllis Vine
Agnes Hatfield

Audio Interviews
Nancy Abraham
Dorothy Holmes
Harold Martin
Mary Krane
Eleanor Slater
Peggy Straw
Dorothy Thorman
Sarah Turner

Additional Interviews
Ian Adamson
Linda Gregory
Marie Hibler
Carol & Jim Howe
Connie & Steve Lieber
George Louzensky
Grace McAndrews
Bob Peterson
Congresswoman Jackie Speier
Dr. Captane Thomson
John Ward

Memorabilia Courtesy of
Hoffman family
Oliphant family
Russell family
Walker family
Todd family

Footage & Images Courtesy of
Julie Hoffman
National Institute of Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness
InFact Films
Prelinger Archive
ABC News (20/20)
CBS News
Harpo Productions
Phil Donohue Productions
Charlie Rose Show
MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour
College of San Mateo
County of San Mateo

Location Filming Thanks to
Caminar-San Mateo County
Cassia House
Cordilleras Mental Health Center
Napa State Hospital
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
San Mateo County
Stanley Medical Research Institute
State of California Capitol Building
Vocational Rehabilitation Services, San Mateo

Lodging Courtesy of
Inn on First ? Napa, CA Coxhead House - San Mateo, CA Shari Staglin & Staglin Family Winery Meyrowitz Cottage

Founding Sponsor
NAMI-San Mateo

Sound Mix
Disher Sound

Stairway to Heaven
Written by James Patrick Page, Robert Plant
Courtesy of Warner Chappell

Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You
Written by Anne Brendon, James Patrick Page, Robert Plant
Courtesy of Warner Chappell

Special Thanks
Claire Aguilar
Bob Carolla
Robby Fahey
Carol Gosho
Amy Halpin
Sgt John Hein
Felicia Kelley
Bill Kruse
Ralph Lewin
Misho Stawnychy
Mark Vickers

Fiscal Sponsor
International Documentary Association

With Generous Support from
Diane & David O'Brien
Telecare Corporation
Fran Hoffman Memorials
Oliphant Tributes
Walker Family Tributes
Dick & Linda Cadigan
Katie Syrett
and many individuals

This project is made possible, in part, by a grant from the California Council for the Humanities in partnership with the Skirball Foundation, through the jointly supported California Documentary Project, a program of the California Stories Initiative. The Council is an independent non-profit organization and a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

When Medicine Got it Wrong is a co-production of imageReal Pictures and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Also on this week ...

KQED Summer Fun Adventures
KQED Summer Fun Adventures

This summer, KQED is partnering with tons of fun places in the Bay Area offering exciting adventures and special savings when you show your MemberCard.

di Rosa
KQED Arts Hot Summer Days & Nights Guide

Get our picks for the season's best concerts, books, movies, outdoor plays, visual arts and more.

Sponsored by