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Massachusetts law meant to protect people with mental illness may make them sicker

By Jhilam Biswas

As gunfire reverberated in the streets surrounding our building last Friday morning, employees across Brigham and Women’s Hospital turned the hallways dark, locked office doors, and sheltered in place alongside frightened patients and colleagues. The tragic events that unfolded that morning left one hospital valet team member injured and another man dead.

While details of the incident are still emerging, early media reports suggest at the heart of this tragedy lies an individual battling a serious and chronic mental illness — schizoaffective disorder.

Schizoaffective disorder is a disease of the brain, a chronic condition that often requires lifelong medication to treat. During acute episodes, patients experience mood fluctuations and psychosis, including hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking. A less well-known symptom of this disorder is anosognosia, or the lack of awareness and insight into their illness. This lack of insight is a reason many individuals refuse or stop taking their medications.

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