The History of a Condition: A Diagnostic Examination of Schizophrenia

April 24, 2023
7 min read
The History of a Condition: A Diagnostic Examination of Schizophrenia

Prior to the late 1800s, there existed no framework with which to understand the condition of Schizophrenia. Those suffering from the condition were, unfortunately, completely misunderstood and were simply assigned labels such as hysterics, lunatics, or even simply madmen.

Customary to the time, Schizophrenics, like most sufferers of more pervasive mental illnesses, were typically cast out of their families and out of their communities and left to live out the remainder of their lives in what were nearly always deplorable conditions in our nation’s institutions of their time. They were given no resources and absolutely no supports as their cases were essentially considered hopeless and these incredible men and women were lost to time.

Fortunately, medical and scientific advances grew, and right at the turn of the 20th century, Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugene Bleuler coined the term itself. His original intent involved the creation of a term that would help in differentiating between those suffering from the conditions he was seeing with those who had been identified as having dementia præcox, an illness that at the time had been inaccurately determined as being dementia that affected only younger persons.

Further, many have questioned the relative age of this condition; or, for how long this condition has existed in the history of man. The oldest known description of a mental condition most closely resembling what we today understand as Schizophrenia can be found in the Ebers Papyrus of an Egypt of 1550 BCE.

Further, archeologists have uncovered artifacts of homo sapiens of the Stone Age with skulls possessing evidence of burr holes, suggesting attempts at primitive lobotomies in basic attempts to alleviate behaviors typical of this type of severe mental illness. In summation, Schizophrenia has likely been in existence as long as mankind itself.

Even though our understanding was once basic, and relatively ignorant, it is only through the efforts of individuals like Dr. Bleuler, and the work of people like Dr. Kraepelin and even the contributions of figures such as the physician Asclepiades (d. 40 BCE) and the statesman and philosopher Cicero and their subsequent predecessors that have allowed for the identification, understanding, and ongoing study of the illness and truly paved the way for today’s field of mental health professionals and the development of supports to aid those suffering from the condition.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a profound, often lifelong mental health condition that is characterized by thoughts and experiences disconnected from reality, intense paranoia and delusions, impulsivity and the inability to emotionally regulate, as well as racing thoughts and hallucinations. The exact causes of Schizophrenia are unknown; however, specialists speculate that several factors play key roles in the development of this condition.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Again, there is no clear-cut explanation regarding the development of this particular mental health illness, but most experts in the field agree that there are three key factors that play a role in the onset of this illness. Those factors include a genetic predisposition that causes an individual to be more susceptible to the development of Schizophrenia, altered brain chemistry and structure, as well as a severe trauma that may play a role in triggering the condition itself.

Studies further suggest the potential for some degree of a hereditary connection, as those diagnosed with the illness often report other members within their extended family as having also suffered from a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. And although there exists no definitive answer as to the reasons behind the development of this mental health condition, there do exist programs of treatment that have allowed those living with the diagnosis to experience a much higher quality of life.

How do we treat Schizophrenia?

Treatment methodology, like any good personal health program, is dependent on the individual and should be developed specifically with the unique needs of the individual in mind. However, there are several approaches that serve as commonly effective treatment models that have proven successful for many sufferers in supporting their health and allowing them the greatest degree of stability and balance. Perhaps the most important piece of this treatment plan involves the role of medications.

It may take many years for an individual struggling with Schizophrenia and her treatment team to find a balanced medication regimen that allows her to experience some degree of relief. There are a multitude of medications that physicians currently prescribe patients in an effort to regulate their chemical balances.

Medications currently being utilized to aid sufferers of Schizophrenia include prescriptions such as Wellbutrin, Prozac, Lithium, Lamictal, Haloperidol, and Benztropine, to name but a few. And finding the right combination, and the right balance of medications can take teams many years. Fortunately, there are some outstanding professionals that truly commit their efforts to providing their patients with the quality of life that they deserve.

In addition, those suffering with the illness are often provided supports like counseling, psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, support groups, rehabilitation services, psychoeducation literature, materials, and programming, as well as family and behavioral therapies. In addition, in rare circumstances, the practice of electric convulsive therapy may be suggested, a treatment once highly common for those suffering from Schizophrenia. However, by today’s standards, this is almost always reserved as a last resort used with individuals for whom other treatment options failed in producing any results.

What is Schizophrenia Not?

It is imperative to include a discussion, however brief, on what Schizophrenia is not. In a culture riddled by colloquialisms that only go to further push the stigmatization and misconceptions surrounding all types of mental illnesses, it is important to be aware of each condition’s characteristics as well as its relative implications.

Schizophrenia is not a disease that describes violent people that exhibit violent behaviors. At least, not any more so than any other condition a person may be suffering from. Can those suffering from Schizophrenia exhibit violence? Yes, of course. But not more so than any individual who is prone to exhibiting violent behavior.

Additionally, Schizophrenia is not to be confused with Multiple Personality Disorder. From a linguistic standpoint, the term itself is rooted in Greek origins, comprised of the Greek word schitzo, meaning split, paired with the Greek word phren, denoting the mind. For years, individuals have incorrectly confused Schizophrenia with Multiple Personality Disorder, which if problematic for several reasons.

The gentleman credited with having first coined the term in the year 1910, a Swiss Psychiatrist named Paul Eugen Bleuler, had chosen the words specifically as a representation of his understanding of the patient’s condition as being one in which she experienced a figurative loosening of the mind and the often disjointed nature of the person’s thoughts and feelings, though many people mistook, just as people continue to misunderstand the word and subsequently the condition to mean one suffering from a split personality.

This is not at all the case, as although those suffering from Schizophrenia may at times suffer from hallucinations and experience a disconnect from reality, they do not report experiencing nor possessing several different “versions” of themselves that they morph into sporadically throughout the day. Further, the vast majority of mental health professionals agree that such a diagnosis does not even actually exist.

Change How you See the Illness; Change How you Treat the Person

Schizophrenia. It’s a heavy word. One wrought with a history riddled by mistruths and that carries a cumbersome load of negative emotional undercurrents. One that elicits feelings of fear, feelings of confusion, and for those suffering from the condition, often feelings of complete isolation. And just like the negative connotations, those struggling with schizophrenia carry an equally heavy burden.

But there’s something you can do to help them. You’ve already started by reading this article; by seeking information and educating yourself about the condition. As a whole, we need to continue to eliminate the stigmatization of those suffering from mental health conditions by changing our vernacular; by changing the way we communicate about mental illnesses and the way we perceive and interact with people who suffer from them.

No one wants to live with a mental illness. It’s not a condition developed through excess or chemical abuse or any other person choice any individual may be making. It just happens. They are no more responsible for the illness from which they are suffering than you are for the color of your eyes, or the stature of your body. Know that they are wonderful people, just like you and me, and work always to treat them with the dignity and respect deserving of any person. It is in this way, and only in this way that we can all continue working towards even better solutions for an even more promising tomorrow.

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