Home | Articles | Resources | Stories | Weller-than-Well | Links | Search | [Successful Schizophrenia logo, RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

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:


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?

top | bottom


Andreason, N.C., "Pieces of the Schizophrenic Puzzle Fall into
Place", Neuron, Vol. 16, April 1996, pp. 697-700.
Andreason, N.C., "Linking Brain and Mind in the Study of Mental
Illness", Science, Vol. 275, 14 March 1997, p. 1586.
Andreason, N.C. & Olsen, S., "Negative v. Positive Schizophrenia",
Archives of General Psychiatry, 1982, Vol. 39, No. 7.
Bemporad, J.R. & Pinkster, H. "Schizophrenia: The
Manifest Symptomatology", American Handbook of Psychiatry (2nd Ed.), Arieti, S., Editor, NY: Basic Books, 1974.
Bleuler, M. "Schizophrenic Psychosis", American,
Journal of Psychiatry November, 1979a.
Bleuler, M. "My Sixty Years with Schizophrenics",
Forward to Disorders of the Schizophrenic Syndrome, Bellak, L., Editor, NY: Basic Books, 1979b.
Brill, H. "Classification and Nomenclature of Psychiatric
Conditions", American Handbook of Psychiatry (2nd Ed.), Arieti, S., Editor, NY: Basic Books, Vol. 1., 1974.
Brody, E.B. & Redlich, F.C. Psychotherapy with
Schizophrenics, NY: International Universities Press, Inc., 1952.
Buckley, P. "Identifying Patients Who Should Not
Receive Medication", Schizophrenia Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 3, 1982.
Carpenter, W.G. "What is Schizophrenia?"
Schizophrenia Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 1., 1983.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(3rd Edition), American Psychiatric Association, 1980.
Executive Summary, The Presidents Commission on
Mental Health, Vol. 2, February 15, 1978.
French, T. & Kasonin, J. "A Psychodynamic Study of the
Recovery of Two Schizophrenic Cases", Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. 10, 1941.
Freeman, T. "Symptomotology, Diagnosis and Course",
The Schizophrenic Syndrome, Bellak, L. & Leob, L. (Editors), NY: Frune and Stratton, 1969.
Grant, B.W. Schizophrenia: A Source of Social Insight,
Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1975.
Kendall, R.E. & Leff, J.P. "Prognostic Implications of Six
Alternative Definitions of Schizophrenia", Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 36, 1979.
Kety, S. "What is Schizophrenia?" Schizophrenia
Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 4, 1982.
Kiesler, C.A. "Mental Hospitals and Alternative Care",
American Psychologist, April 1982.
Knight, R. Introduction Psychotherapy with Schizophrenics,
Brody, E.P. & Redlich, F.C. (Editors), NY: International University Press, 1952.
Laing, R.D. "Transcendental Experience in Relation to
Religion and Psychosis", The Psychedelic Review, No. 6, 1965.
Matarazzo, J.D. "Some Psychotherapists Make Patients
Worse!" International Journal of Psychiatry, No. 3, 1967.
Mendell, W.M. "Effects of Length of Hospitalization Rate
and Quality of Remission from Acute Psychotic Episodes", Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, Vol. 143, No. 3, 1966a.
Mendell, W.M. "Brief Hospitalization Techniques",
Current Psychiatric Therapies, Vol. 1, 1966b.
Pasamanick, B., Scarpitti, F.R. & Dinitz, S. Schizophrenics in
the Community, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967.
Rappaport, M., Hopkins, H.D., & Hall, K. "Are there Schizophrenics
for Whom Drugs may be Unnecessary and Contraindicated?" International Pharmopsychiatry, Vol. 13, 1978.
Rogers, C., Gendlin, E.R., Kiesler, J.D., & Truax, C.B.
The Therapeutic Relationship: A Study of Psychotherapy with Schizophrenics, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.
Rokeach, M. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,
Columbia University Press, 1964, (Re-issued, 1981).
Rosenhan, D.L. "On Being Sane in Insane
Places", Science, No. 179, 1973.
Rubins, J.L. The Growth Process in Schizophrenia: A Holistic
Psychodynamic Approach, Schizophrenia: Current Concepts and Research, Sanker, S., Editor, Wicksville, NY: P.J.D. Publications Ltd., 1969.
Silverman, J. "When Schizophrenia Helps", Psychology Today, September 1970.
Smith, A.C. Schizophrenia and Madness,
London: George Allen & Unwin, 1982.
Strauss, J.S. & Gift, T.E. "Choosing an Approach for Diagnosing
Schizophrenia", Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 34, 1977.
Strupp, H.H., Hadley, S.W., & Gomes-Schwartz, B., Psychotherapy for
Better or Worse: The Problem of Negative Effects, NY: Jason Arenson, 1977.
Sullivan, H.D., Schizophrenia as a Human Process,
NY: W.W. Norton,Co., 1962.
Torrey, E.F., Out of the Shadows,
NY: Harper & Row, 1997.
Torrey, E.F., Surviving Schizophrenia,
NY: Harper & Row, 1983.
Zubin, J., "What is Schizophrenia?"
Schizophrenia Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 3., 1983.
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?"

[Successful Schizophrenia logo, small, RETURN TO HOME PAGE] Home | Articles | Resources | Stories | Weller-than-Well | Links | Search

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!