For One Family, Decision to Reject Treatment Ends With Tragic Death

Critics of 'Mad Pride' movement point to a tragic killing in Maine.

ByABC News
August 24, 2009, 11:12 AM

Aug. 25, 2009— -- One out of four adults in the United States -- close to 60 million people -- is diagnosed every year with some form of mental disorder, and about one in 17 suffers from a serious mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. At the same time, more Americans than ever are relying on prescription drugs to treat the disorders.

But for members of the grass-roots activist movement known as "Mad Pride," medication isn't always the answer. Instead, they believe in embracing their mental disorders as something more than a disability or illness. Rather than alter what they believe is a useful and powerful "gift," Mad Pride activists say individuals have the inherent right to choose whether to take their prescribed medications.

David Oaks, a prominent Mad Pride activist and leader of the mental health advocacy organization MindFreedom International, of Eugene Ore., was once diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Despite the diagnosis, Oaks does not take medication. "My empowerment is part of my recovery in that I have choice," he said.

But while the Mad Pride movement has gained steam in recent years, it is not without its detractors. Joe Bruce of Caratunk, Maine, says he knows all too well what a tragic mistake rejecting treatment can be.

In June 2006, Bruce made a chilling call to 911 that he never imagined he would have to make.

Bruce and his wife, Amy, raised their three boys in the tiny New England town with a population of a little more than 100 people. Bruce says there was always something unique about their oldest son, William, better known as Willy.

"Throughout his childhood," Bruce said, "he would be the kid that would play rougher. ... He had a disturbing way of not considering other people. It was very difficult for his mother Amy [because she] was a person that wanted to raise her kids to care about other people."

At the time, the Bruces suspected it was just a stage that Willy would grow out of.

Instead, Willy grew into an increasingly troubled young man. More worrisome than failing grades in school, Willy had minor run-ins with the law, suicidal tendencies and would go for days without sleeping.