The History of Schizophrenia

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Evidence of what we describe as Schizophrenia today can actually be traced right back to ancient Egyptian times and a description of symptoms in the Book of Hearts resembles what we would recognise as Schizophrenia today.

It wasn’t until 1887 that the German physician, Emile Kraepelin identified the symptoms of different mental disorders, including Schizophrenia and classified them accordingly.
Kraepelin didn’t call it Schizophrenia though; he referred to it as ‘dementia praecox’, which literally means early dementia.

The term Schizophrenia didn’t actually appear until 1911 when the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler changed the name. Bleuler recognised that the various symptoms of Schizophrenia fell into two distinct groups and was the first person to describe the symptoms of Schizophrenia as being either positive or negative.

Schizophrenia comes from the Greek words Schizo and Phrene which translated means split and mind. This led the general public to mistakenly believe that Schizophrenia is split personality, which is incorrect.

Both Kraepelin and Bleuler managed to classify Schizophrenia into different types and today we recognise the five different sub-types of Schizophrenia as Disorganised, Catatonic, Paranoid, Residual and Undifferentiated.

The first antipsychotic medicines

It’s hard to believe in these modern times in the West that Schizophrenia and indeed all mental illnesses were once thought and in some parts of the world still are believed to be caused by evil spirits or some other divine or ridiculous idea. Who knows what suffering some poor individuals have had to endure at the mercy of a superstitious public?

Before the discovery of antipsychotic medicine, treatment of individuals with Schizophrenia included bizarre practices such as exorcism, boring holes into the skull, incarceration, even burning as witches. However, in 1952 French surgeon Henri Laborit discovered that Chlorpromazine effectively reduced the symptoms of Schizophrenia and a new era was born.

In the last ten years or so, even newer types of antipsychotics have become available which are even more effective than the older typical antipsychotics and which produce fewer side effects. Research also continues to highlight potential triggers and causes and there is hope that a cure may be found in the future.

In the meantime, we have come a long way regarding our attitude to and our treatment of Schizophrenia, particularly in the West, and although stigma still exists, nowadays the main objective is to control the symptoms and help the individual integrate into society.

Many people with Schizophrenia can and do go on to lead very full and productive lives, can maintain relationships, have children, learn, work, partake in social activities, just like everyone else, and as research continues to advance our understanding of Schizophrenia, the future looks even more promising.

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