By Tammy Scileppi
“Please hear this: There are not ‘schizophrenics.’ There are people with schizophrenia,” says Elyn Saks, a mental-health policy advocate who lives with the baffling illness.
Dr. John Kane would most probably agree.
At 71, Kane has been widely respected throughout his career, not only as a scientist and physician but also as a humanitarian who has built a reputation for working to end the stigma attached to mental illness. He prefers the expression “illness of the brain” and maintains that such afflictions result from malfunctions in the structure and function of certain parts of the brain. In other words, it’s not the patient’s fault.
“This stigma still represents a major obstacle to many people in terms of identifying signs of illness in a timely manner and seeking appropriate treatment,” said Kane, senior vice president for Behavioral Health Services at Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ) in Great Neck. He has devoted the last 45 years of his life to The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, a stand-alone mental health facility at Northwell.
“We are engaged in a variety of attempts to reduce stigma through better public education, particularly among young people,” Kane said.
Through his work, the doctor has expanded options for those suffering from severe mental illness. He was one of the first to realize the value of using the drug clozapine to treat people living with schizophrenia. Kane pushed hard in the late 1980s and early 1990s to have this drug recognized as a superior treatment method for schizophrenia. Drugs used previously caused patients to have uncontrollable spasms and very severe weight gain, he said.
“Everyone needs to accept the fact that the brain is an organ like any other, though far more complicated,” Kane noted. “We need to realize that having an illness that affects the brain should not be viewed as different from having an illness that affects the heart.”
As with other medical maladies, making a diagnosis involves a history taken from patients and family members (if available). There is currently no blood test for schizophrenia, though many scientists are trying to develop such a test.
One of the largest and most comprehensive treatment facilities in the region, Zucker Hillside has a long history of doing pioneering research in a number of mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia.
And it’s largely due to Kane’s efforts that Zucker Hillside has been an ongoing recipient of funding by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Described by his colleagues as a modest person who rarely talks about himself, the Manhattan resident said he enjoys New York City’s easy access to art, theater, music, restaurants and sports.