Mom fights for a son trapped in the system

Since 33-year-old Siddharta Fisher was a teenager, he has been caught in a dark cycle of institutionalization, forced drugging, and jail. Now Siddharta may face years in Western State Psychiatric Hospital. His mother, Cindi, however, is continuing to fight for him in any way she can.

Siddharta (his mom calls him “Sid”) was a bright, creative kid. At age 12, he took his SATs; he also won the Washington State chess championship. He played and wrote music, teaching himself to play keyboards and using his extra pocket money to purchase a guitar and a mixer. He wrote poetry and rap.

At around the age of 16, Siddharta had a crisis that doctors called a “psychotic break.” Cindi found help for Siddharta, but things were getting worse, and when he was 18, she took him to Kaiser for help. They gave him an injection of psychiatric drugs.

“Inner torment”

The medication had terrible side effects, including an “inner torment” that was probably akathisia, a common drug side effect that causes a terrible feeling of physical and mental turmoil. That night, overcome by the feared side effect, he begged his mother to stay with him as he tried to sleep. “I’m afraid I’ll jump out the window,” he said.

The next day, Cindi took Siddharta to the Emergency Room, where a physician’s assistant snapped, “You need to understand, he’s going to have this condition for the rest of his life. You can’t just keep bringing him to the E.R.”

The following week, Siddharta was at Kaiser again. Cindi told the doctor what had happened after the last shot, but the doctor said it was an allergic reaction. “We just need to lower the dose,” he said, and proceeded to inject him again.

Shortly after that, Kaiser dropped him from the insurance policy.

What did Siddharta need? According to Cindi, he needed sufficient counseling and a supportive place to live. What did he get? Eventually, jail – and now an indefinite stay in the hospital.

More forced drugging, more bizarre behavior

The drugs weren’t making Siddharta better; they were making him worse. And a tragic pattern seemed to emerge. Siddharta would be forcibly medicated (often in jail). He would get out, and within a week, he would do something completely uncharacteristic, even bizarre. He would be sent back to jail, where he was forcibly medicated, often with Geodon. Again, he would emerge, but again, only a few days later, he would do something else. Cindi couldn’t understand what was going on – until she read up on Geodon.

From Pfizer’s U.S. Prescribing Information, some of the “frequent” side effects of Geodon are the following:

  • Agitation
  • Hostility
  • Confusion
  • Delirium

The side effects sounded a lot like Siddharta’s “symptoms.” Cindi began to believe that the forced medications, especially Geodon, were making her son worse. She did more research, and found that people in countries with less access to psychiatric drugs tend to recover more quickly and fully than in the U.S., where schizophrenia is considered a life-long disability.

From jail to the hospital

In January 2010, according to court records and accounts from Cindi Fisher, Siddharta was booked into Clark County Jail on a residential burglary charge. This was not his first. Several times (after a period of being forcibly medicated), he would act out when released, entering a stranger’s house through an open door or window, and, when confronted, walking back out. In this case, it led to a burglary charge.

The more heavily they medicate Siddharta, says Cindi, the more aggressive his behavior gets. During the last year, he has been banned from all the local convenience stores because he tried to steal small items like cigarettes. Recently, he hit Cindi in the arm.

Siddharta’s mother has continued to support her son and advocate for him in every way possible, even retaining an expert witness to testify in court. However, the prosecutor dropped the criminal charges, making the hearing unnecessary. Instead, they decided to pursue civil commitment, and have sent Siddharta to Western State Psychiatric Hospital.

A life sentence

Unfortunately, while criminal sentences have definite terms, such as “six months to a year,” a psychiatric commitment can be extended indefinitely, making it a potential life sentence.

In Western State, even though criminal charges were dropped, they put Siddharta on the forensic side of the hospital. Cindi hopes that, after an evaluation, they will move him to the civil side.

She is trying to keep Siddharta’s spirits up, even through a 30-day lockdown at the jail for not cleaning his cell. She visits him, brings him books, and sends him cards and letters, enclosing his baby photos.

And she is not giving up. She intends to fight all the way, and get the expert testimony heard.

Antipsychotics may lead to relapse

Now Cindi is trying to get a hearing on behalf of her son, with another chance to present testimony by Toby T. Watson, Psy.D., Clinical and Doctoral Training Director of Associated Psychological Health Services, Inc., in Wisconsin, and International Executive Director for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. Dr. Watson held strong conventional beliefs about psychiatric medication and the nature of schizophrenia – that is, until he began seeing studies that contradicted these beliefs.

According to Dr. Watson’s affidavit, a NIMH study showed that drugs may be effective in curbing psychosis over the short term – but over the long term, they can make patients more psychotic. He quotes NIMH scientist William Carpenter: “Antipsychotic medication may make some schizophrenic patients more vulnerable to relapse than would be the case in the natural course of the illness.”

Dr. Watson also found evidence that recovery rates are higher for non-medicated patients than for medicated patients, and that the newer, “atypical” antipsychotics could actually be worse than the older treatments.

Further, Dr. Watson challenges diagnostic practice. “Psychiatric diagnoses,” he writes, “are subjective and often invalid.”

And what about Sid? According to his mom, “He just wants to come home.”