Schizophrenia’s Long History

Schizophrenia is complex illness with an equally complex history.  The medical community didn’t suddenly find a disease and label it as “schizophrenia.”  It took many years; beginning in the early 1800’s the world in the West began to notice a cluster of similar symptoms and began giving them one name together.  What was noticed as an extreme form of madness was first called ‘early dementia’ because it occurred in the young and not the old, in the creative and not the dull.

The main thing people noticed was that it wasn’t like mood instability that young folks sometimes experienced, so they called it ‘developmental insanity’ referring to the youth that it affected.  In the 1870’s, schizophrenia, not yet being called such, became called ‘hebephrenia.’  But finally in 1908 it was noticed that the main effect of this illness was the split between the person’s personality and their mind and ability to reason.

This man, E. Bleuler, identified four effects of schizophrenia that he cleverly realized could all be described by the letter ‘A,’ which include Ambivalence, Autism, Affect, and Association.  Finally narrowing down the reality of this mental illness and giving it a common label helped make it accessible to the medical community and gave us the ability to communicate clearly with one another about it.