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Schizophrenia Throughout History

By Edited Dec 8, 2015 1 2

Schizophrenia, a severe brain disorder that continues to be mysterious and often misunderstood, has origins that are traceable everywhere in the known world throughout history. Only within the last 100 years have we come to understand the term schizophrenia as meaning a specific genetically-based mental illness that is treatable with medication and therapy, but references on the disease itself exist from as long ago as 2000 B.C.

Earliest History of Schizophrenia

One of the earliest written documents that outline symptoms similar to those of Schizophrenia—depression, dementia and disturbed thought—is the “Book of the Heart” of ancient Egypt. Similar symptoms were documented in the Hindu “Artharva Veda” in 1400 B.C, and the Chinese described it in “The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine” in 1000 B.C. Records of ancient Greece and Rome documented mental illness similar to schizophrenia described as those of having divine and physical origins.

In the 15th century, University scholars were beginning to understand the scientific components of dementia, while the common world believed that the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions were supernatural in nature and that the individual was inflicted as punishment from God. Many people thought that the devil was in play and that religious intervention was needed to save the souls of those believed possessed.”

During this dark era, sick individuals were “exorcised” of evil spirits through brutal methods such as “trepanning.” In trepanning, a hole was bore into the skull to release the bad spirits, and death from infection or surgical complications frequently resulted. Other people were burned at the stake under accusation of witchcraft, and many sought solace and protection with the priests and nuns at churches.

Latest Centuries of Schizophrenia

Over the next several hundred years, medical observations of schizophrenia evolved into a more cohesive manner to formulate specific criteria for the disease and viewed it as being scientific rather than supernatural or spiritual in.  Also emerging was the gradual understanding that symptoms of schizophrenia were unique from other psychoses.

In the last century, research of schizophrenia has accelerated and treatments have been improved upon. Emil Kraepelin referred to the disease specifically, but under the term “dementia praecox”, and the term “schizophrenia” was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1907. Bleuler was responsible for significant research and for naming symptoms similar to those defined as positive and negative in schizophrenia.

The earliest part of the 20th century  was marked own darkness, with the emergence of such dangerous treatment procedures as lobotomies and shock treatments. Early mental institutions, called “insane asylums”, housed often-neglected and tormented patients that were no more than a human zoo. For a fee, the wealthier were allowed to tour the institutions and view the patients. The patients were regarded as nothing more than objects of interest on display and treated as less than human.

Fortunately, many of the earlier methods of dealing with schizophrenia have been outdated, and since the introduction of the first anti-psychotic medication in 1952, schizophrenia has come to be more effectively treated. However, it is still not close to being fully understood and much research is still needed.

old book
Credit: Nuttakit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1556


Apr 23, 2011 1:34pm
Thumbs up. I love history articles, and schizop... is really an interesting mental state. I hate to call it an illness, because for all we know, it could be the norm. Nice, unbiased article.
Aug 11, 2011 11:20pm
Interesting article. Thank heavens treatment and understanding has at least advanced a little.
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