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If Schizophrenia is a Disease or Illness Why Doesn't it Act Like One?


by Al Siebert, PhD (revised January, 1998)

IIntroduction: "The Embarassed Student Nurse"

During my last year as a psychologist at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Michigan hospital, a student nurse about to start her psychiatric rotation made a request that had everyone laughing at her. When she reported for work at the psychiatric unit, she asked her clinical supervisor where she could get shots to immunize her against mental illnesses.

The surpervisor asked why she was making such a request. The student nurse explained that she heard a public service announcement on the radio saying that mental illnesses were diseases like any other, so she wanted to be immunized when she was exposed to patients with mental illnesses. Everyone laughed when they heard about her naive request because everyone knows that no person working with mental patients has ever caught a mental illness, disease, or disorder from a patient.

Schizophreniadoes not act like a disease

According to psychiatrists, from 1 to 1.5% of the worlds population has a mental disease called schizophrenia. (Presidents Commission, 1979). In contrast to other mental disorders, this disease appeared in human beings about 100 years ago. Virtually unknown for thousands of years, it suddenly appeared all over the planet and is said to be increasing rapidly (Torrey, 1983, pp. 208-209).

Eugen Bleuler created the term schizophrenia in 1908. Since then it has been thoroughly researched with over 100,000 books and articles published on it (M. Bleuler, 1979a, p. 1403). The slowly emerging picture of schizophrenia is peculiar, however, because it does not have any characteristics of being a disease or illness. Research and clinical experience reveal the following:

Summary

No known disease matches the facts listed above. In addition, correspondence with the National Center for Disease Control verifies that the Center officers do not consider schizophrenia a disease and do not monitor its occurence.

Questions About the Minds of the Beholders

If schizophrenia does not act like a disease or illness, then why do so many experts believe it is? To help bring understanding to the situation, it is useful to ask some questions about the people who diagnose and try to remove schizophrenia from others. One such question is: Why is it that when a person acts, thinks, feels or speaks in certain ways the thought "That's schizophrenic" is triggered in the minds of mental health experts?

Other questions include: Why does a person viewed as schizophrenic become a target for curing? Why is it supposed to be sick, for example, to feel like Christ or Napoleon? Why are well-intentioned therapists unable to resist attempting to eliminate undesirable thoughts and feelings from the person, often in spite of a person's protests, while telling the person that such actions are entirely for his or her own good?

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Note 1. See the latest issues of the Schizophrenia Bulletin. Editors Strauss, Bowers, and Keith are publishing an ongoing series of invited articles all attempting to answer the question, "What is Schizophrenia?"
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Disclaimer: Material found on the Successful Schizophrenia website is for your information only. We are not able dispense specific advice for your situation. If you are under a doctor's care, you should talk with him or her about your mental health goals and if they are not on the same page as you, ask for a referral to a doctor or counselor who is. It may mean interviewing several. If you are on your own, you may wish to contact your local county mental health department to ask for local resources. Our site exists to show people that there are all varieties of mental states and assessments of those states; that sometimes 'mental health' is in the eye of the beholder; and that the mental health profession needs to continue to open itself up to the new paradigm ... progress is being made!