When Medicine Got it Wrong
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 der.org.
This program is not currently scheduled for broadcast.
Read more about Katie Cadigan, filmmaker of When Medicine Got it Wrong.
Read more about Laura Murray, filmmaker of When Medicine Got it Wrong.
When Medicine Got it Wrong: Crew & Credits
Produced, Written & Directed by
Director of Photography
Associate Producer (Post Production)
Dr. Richard Lamb
Dr. Herbert Pardes
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo
Carol & Jim Howe
Connie & Steve Lieber
Congresswoman Jackie Speier
Dr. Captane Thomson
Memorabilia Courtesy of
Footage & Images Courtesy of
National Institute of Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness
ABC News (20/20)
Phil Donohue Productions
Charlie Rose Show
College of San Mateo
County of San Mateo
Location Filming Thanks to
Caminar-San Mateo County
Cordilleras Mental Health Center
Napa State 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
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
Sgt John Hein
International Documentary Association
With Generous Support from
Diane & David O'Brien
Fran Hoffman Memorials
Walker Family Tributes
Dick & Linda Cadigan
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).
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