Schizophrenia is widely misunderstood, even among medical and psychiatric professionals. Although an estimated two and a half million Americans suffer from the disease, along with fifty million others worldwide, it often is misdiagnosed, and treatment approaches differ radically. This lack of understanding deeply affects those with the disease and their families, who must figure out for themselves how to cope with the disease and associated behavioral difficulties.
Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that often produces hallucinations and delusional thinking. It often leaves the sufferer completely incapacitated to perform daily life tasks such as bathing, socialization, and work. Because many health insurance plans treat schizophrenia as a psychological or psychiatric rather than medical condition, they do not cover treatment as fully, leading to financial hardships for the families of schizophrenics. Schizophrenia is the most expensive disease on earth, associated with annual costs of $32.5 billion for hospitalization, medication, caregiving, and lost productivity.
Peter Wyden writes about these issues from an insider’s perspective. His son, Jeff, began to withdraw during adolescence, and by the time he was in his twenties, he was severely psychotic and disconnected from reality. Doctors could not agree on Jeff’s diagnosis, much less appropriate treatment. Wyden discusses his son’s treatment in parallel with a broader discussion of the history of research and treatment of schizophrenia.
Jeff’s odyssey involved so many doctors that neither he nor his son could remember them all. Jeff’s treatment included ineffective Freudian therapy, then a number the development of which Wyden discusses. Jeff finally found partial relief through use of Clozapine and a successor, Olanzapine. Although he remains unable to work, he has found interest in life that he previously lacked and is more interested in interacting with the world.
The book is more a history of the treatment of schizophrenia than a memoir, but inclusion of Jeff’s case makes it much more personal and involving. Although Wyden does not emphasize the point, it is clear that caretaking and the search for appropriate treatment were tremendously draining, both emotionally and financially, and inclusion of personal information encourages compassion in reading the far lengthier historical sections. The book is useful as a general source of information for lay readers as well as a professional resource; it includes a nineteen-page bibliography and a fifteen-page index.