A Life Destroyer Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious psychiatric illnesses.
It affects one percent of the general population. This is a socially and financially devastating
disease that robs people of their most productive years of life. Schizophrenia still continues to be
one of the most complex, puzzling and disabling of the major mental illnesses. Most symptoms
develop in men around the age of sixteen and twenty-five years old, and around twenty-five to
thirty years old in women. Schizophrenia rarely develops in children and most schizophrenics
appear to have a normal childhood. A delusion, which is a false belief that defies logic and
common sense, is a common symptom of schizophrenia. The person thinks someone is watching
them constantly or they think people can read their mind. Hallucinations, hearing, seeing or
sensing something that isnt there, are another common symptom of schizophrenia. Some people
experience heightened senses, which is hypersensitivity of sense that leads to visual distortions.
Others experience auditory hallucinations. They sometimes carry on conversations or are told to
do things by one or may voices that are not there. Very rarely, but still as devastating, some
experience visual hallucinations or smell odd smells coming from themselves. (Young, 67-68)
More that 300,000 adults in this country are unable to distinguish their imaginations from reality
In the 1700s and the 1800s, before much was known about mental diseases,
schizophrenia was thought of as witchcraft (Nichols pg. 1). Anyone who displayed signs of this
disease was thought to have been possessed. The Puritans believed "distraction", as they called
it, was either possession by the devil, or punishment for sins. Yet, the strange behavior of those
afflicted was looked upon with tolerance. Through much of the 1700s, family or friends were
expected to take care of the mentally ill. Dorothea Dix was a school teacher who took up the
cause of the mentally ill in the mid 1800s, found disturbed individuals living in sordid
conditions, "confined in cages, closets, cellars, stalls and pens: chained, naked, beaten with rods
and lashed into obedience." She worked to help these people live a more normal life. (Goode
A dismal outlook for schizophrenia was dramatically changed in the 1950s with the
development of the first antipsychotic drug, Chlorpromazine. Since then, more that a dozen other
similar-acting antipsychotic medications have been developed. These drugs work by
blocking binding sites of dopamine, which is a main factor in schizophrenia. Chlorpromazine
was first used as an antihistamine. Then, it was found to calm hyperactive schizophrenic patients
out of withdrawal and reduced major symptoms of the disease. A lot of false medication was
used before the discovery of chlorpromazine. An insulin coma, as one example, was used to
relieve most symptoms by overloading the patients body with insulin. This helped some
patients, because it calmed them down, but killed most of them.
Electroconvulsive therapy, where brief pulses of electronegativity are passed through the
brain, was also used. It was thought that using this type of treatment, symptoms could be reduced
or eliminated, but it did neither. This only helped the severely depressed and only calmed them
for a little while. Doctors also attempted a frontal lobotomy, which was a surgical removal of the
front parts of the brain. A frontal lobotomy was done because it was thought that the front part of
the brain was responsible for schizophrenia. This did nothing but make a quieter patient. These
practices were commonly used to try to suppress the main symptoms of schizophrenia. Mainly,
these practices did nothing but torture the patient and make him or her suffer extremely. (Young
67-68) Many schizophrenics will carry on conversations with voices or people who are not really
there. The voices may tell them what to do and how to harm themselves or others. This puts the
patient at a huge risk for committing suicide. The medication that is prescribed to them attempts
to stop the voices or other symptoms. In turn, most schizophrenics would experience severely
painful side effects. These side effects included constipation, drowsiness, dry mouth and blurred
vision, which would most like diminish after a few weeks. Other side effects that is less likely to
diminish included restlessness, slurred speech, trembling of hands and feet, muscle rigidity in the
neck and head. Most patients experienced a tremendous amount of weight gain and could not
lose the extra pounds, while some also experienced sun sensitivity and fainting.
The next story is one case of schizophrenia. It shows what a typical schizophrenic would
go through in life. The ending is like most schizophrenics, where the stress becomes too much
and the patient attempts to escape it by killing themselves. Eighteen to fifty-five percent of
people living with schizophrenia attempt suicide, with more than ten percent of a success rate
(Bathen pg. 14). Many schizophrenics cannot cope with the stresses of everyday life and feel that
the only way to escape would be to kill themselves.
Environmental factors can affect the person too. If the person is constantly treated as a
nuisance, is abused about how the act or is not shown love and understanding, he or she may be
lonely and turn to other things to help them deal with it. In turn, some talk to the voices in their
heads and actually think that the situation is really that bad and may listen to what they are being
told. It can be quite frightening for the patient. Janet was 15 in the late 1960s. Her parents
assumed she was rebelling like the rest of the kids were during that time. They took Janet to an
adolescent specialist and were told there was no need to worry. (Goode pg. 63)
In 1972, after changing schools for the third time, she lived at home and became a
born-again Christian. She would lie on her bedroom floor and would scream, "Im
damned to hell and my family is damned to hell." She would slam her sister
against the wall. She tells them "Youre not my family." She left home and moved
in with a cult leader in downtown Boston, collecting donations on the street and
ate from open carts in the North End. (Goode pg. 64)
At nineteen, she asked her parents to meet her outside a counseling center. She runs to the car,
screaming, and she hit her father on the shoulder. She was taken to the emergency room where
she was put on the psychiatric ward. This was Janets first hospitalization. (Goode pg. 65) Janet
was shuffled to and from private and city hospitals. Some doctors told her parents its best if she
was at home, yet others told them not to take her home. She was prescribed numerous drugs,
alone and in combination. They make her muscles stiff and her hands tremble. They do nothing
to help her. Sometimes, she would escape the hospitals and disappears for months. Sometimes,
she was discharged and her parents were not told. One night, she was picked up for hitchhiking.
Another time, she was arrested for shoplifting. She stayed in halfway houses or at home. In her
last years, she lived in a halfway house for two and a half years. She occasionally broke the
rules, but she otherwise was on her best behavior. On August 25, 1986, the painful news arrives
to Janets parents. She has killed herself by drinking several bottles of nail polish remover and
jumping from a second story window. (Goode pg. 58) This story, although sad and painful, is
what many schizophrenics go through.
Anyone who has seen up close the disintegration of a mind by schizophrenia can
understand the pain of this horrible disease. Many schizophrenics experience far worse than what
Janet has went through. Some lose total touch with reality and do not know what is real and what
isnt. They experience things in a much different frame of mind than others. Many
schizophrenics end up like Janet, taking their own life to escape the torment of this living hell.
Dealing with a schizophrenic is very hard work. It is made even harder when the person is in
your family and is someone you love. To try to calm a schizophrenic during a temper tantrum is
near impossible due to their lost connection of reality. Also, attempting to make the person
realize their hallucination or delusion is not real is also very hard and painful. All one can do is
to watch the patient to make sure he or she does not hurt themselves and that they are ok. It is a
very painful process for both the caretaker and the patient.
Schizophrenia is in part caused by an inability to cope with the psychological stresses of
human existence. Stress is a pressure that a person finds difficult to cope with. Overwhelming
stress can cause schizophrenic like symptoms to appear. Schizophrenia is also caused by a
chemical overload in the persons brain. This causes the brain to be off balance and causes these
horrible symptoms. Environmental factors also affect the disease and can irritate the symptoms.
Negative experiences with family or friends can cause schizophrenia to develop more versus
positive experiences that can keep the schizophrenic gene down so that it can never bother a
person. The risk factors for developing schizophrenic are not for certain, but some psychologists
have found some factors that can influence the development of this disease. Some inherit the
disease but its affected by environmental factors also.
If family communications are poor, a patient is more likely to develop schizophrenia,
such as hearing negative or confusing messages. Separation from parents can also be a major
factor. Being shuffled from one family member to another, or being placed in a foster home and
not having a stable family life can also have a tremendous effect on the development of this
disease. School problems can affect the risk also. If a student has a short attention span, a poor
short-term memory or a high level of anger can be a main sign of developing schizophrenia later
in life. This is because the extra stress in his or her life, due to family or school related problems
could put a strain of the childs life, causing a higher risk of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia runs in
Ten people out of one hundred who have the schizophrenic gene will get the disease if
their mother or father has the disease. If the mother and father both have the disease, the chances
for developing the disease is doubled and will most likely have schizophrenia later in life.
Someone who inherits a schizophrenia gene has an average one-in-three chance of actually
developing the disease. Ten to fifteen percent of schizophrenics have the disease in their
immediate family. Some psychologists believe that some people inherit the disease by the way a
child is raised. The environment that the child is raised in can affect the disease because the child
may have a hard time adjusting or dealing with the negative influences in his or her life. If the
parents have the disease, then they are more likely to raise the child in a way that he or she will
most like develop it. By the way the child is nurtured or the nature in which they are raised is a
major factor in whether or not the child will develop schizophrenia. Researchers have found that
if one of the two identical twins has schizophrenia there is a thirty five to sixty percent chance
the other twin will develop the disease also (Cookson pg. 12). Whereas in fraternal twins, if one
of the two has schizophrenia, there is only a ten to fifteen percent chance the other twin will
develop the disease (Cookson pg. 12). Schizophrenia is a difficult and trying disease. It is one of
the most common serious psychiatric illnesses.
Having this terrible mental illness is hard for everyone involved. Schizophrenia is a
socially and financially devastating disease that robs people of their most productive years of
their life. This illness robs people of their most productive years of their lives, forcing them to
live a majority of their live on medication, out of touch with reality. Many people who have this
disease spend half of their life unable to live a normal, productive life due to the major symptoms
of this illness. Although advances have been made in this work, schizophrenia continues to be
one of the most complex, puzzling and disabling of the major mental illnesses. Hopefully, on
day, a cure can be found for this horrible illness and the people affected by this can live a normal
Works Cited
Bathen, Sigrid "A Nightmare in Broad Daylight" California Journal Oct. 97 pg. 12-17
Cookson, Clive "Secrets of Schizophrenia" Financial Times April 30, 1996 pg. 12 Sirs: Mental Health Vol. 5, Article 52
Goode, Erica E. "When Mental Illness Hits Home" U.S. News and World Report April 24, 1989 pg. 55-65 Sirs: Mental Health Vol. 4, Article 9
Nichols, Mark "Schizophrenia: Hidden Torment" Macleans Magazine Jan. 30, 1995 Sirs: Mental Health Vol. 5, Article 22
Young, Patrick "Schizophrenia" Chelsea House Publishers New York and Philadelphia 1988 pg. 13-111