The History of Schizophrenia

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What does the word schizophrenia mean? How old is schizophrenia?  Who first named the condition and how has our view on it evolved? Let’s take a journey through time to learn more about this serious mental illness.

Schizophrenia Throughout the Early Years

Schizophrenia etymology is interesting as the word comes from the Greek words “schizo” meaning split, and “phrene” meaning mind, to describe fragmented thinking. Based on an article published on, schizophrenia etymology notes that the term  wasn’t meant to convey the idea of split personality, a common misunderstanding by the public. Since then, the definition of schizophrenia has continued to change, as scientists attempt to accurately classify the different types of mental illnesses. In Greek mythology mental illness was thought of as punishment from the gods. It wasn’t until 460-377 BC, the time of the Greek physician Hippocrates, that mental illness became the object of scientific speculation.

First Patient of Schizophrenia

According to an article on, the schizophrenia timeline can be traced to Egypt, as far back as the second millennium BC with written documents identifying schizophrenia and the first patient with schizophrenia. Depression, dementia, and thought disturbances that are typical in schizophrenia are described in detail in the Egyptian Book of Hearts. The heart and the mind seem to have been synonymous in ancient Egypt.

Old Treatments for Schizophrenia

The influential Roman physician Celsus believed in the idea that madness was punishment from the gods. This idea was reinforced by the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. In the Middle Ages, religion and medieval asylums such as the Bethlehem in London were used to treatment mental illness. Also, some monasteries were transformed into treatment facilities for the mentally ill.

The burning of the heretics (often people suffering from psychotic illnesses) began in the early Renaissance and reached its peak in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Deception of Demons, or the De praestigiis daemonum first published in 1563, argued that the madness resulted from natural causes, not divine punishment or demonic possession. The Church prohibited the book and accused its author, Johann Weyer of sorcery. This part of the schizophrenia timeline in history is particularly dark because of the lack of understanding of mental illnesses.

Changing the Approach to Treating Schizophrenia

Between 1632 and 1784 John Locke in England and Denis Diderot in France challenged this by arguing that emotions and reason are caused by nothing more than sensations. Also, between 1745 and 1826 the physician Philippe Pinel in France began regarding mental illness as the product of exposure to social and psychological stressors. A landmark in the history of psychiatry, Pinel’s Medico-Philosophical Treatise on Mental Alienation or Mania called for a more humane approach to the treatment of mental illness. This moral treatment included respect, trust, confiding in your doctor, decreased stimuli, routine activity, and the abandonment of outdated treatments. At about the same time as Pinel in France, the Tuke family in England founded the York Retreat in the British Isles, the first institution for humane care for those with mental illness.

Schizophrenia As An Official Diagnosis

According to the Medical Research Council, the term schizophrenia is only about 100 years old. The disease was first identified as a mental illness by Dr. Emile Kraepelin in 1887 and the illness itself is generally believed to have accompanied mankind throughout history.  According to an article by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Dr. Kraepelin used the term dementia praecox, meaning early dementia for individuals who had symptoms that we now associate with schizophrenia. He used this term because his studies focused on young adults with dementia. He was the first to make a distinction in the psychotic disorders between what he called dementia praecox and manic depression. Kraepelin believed that dementia praecox was primarily a disease of the brain, and particularly a form of dementia.

According to an article by Catherine Harrison, PhD on, the Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, coined the actual term, schizophrenia in 1911. He was also first to describe symptoms as negative or positive. Bleuler changed the name because dementia praecox was misleading as schizophrenia doesn’t lead to mental deterioration and could sometimes occur late as well as early in life, unlike dementia. Both Bleuler and Kraepelin subdivided schizophrenia into categories, based on observed symptoms and diagnosis. Over the years, mental health professionals have continued to attempt to classify types of schizophrenia.

Kraepelin’s classification of mental disorders, the Compendium der Psychiatrie, is the forerunner of the two most significant classifications of mental disorders, the International Classification of Diseases 10th Revision (ICD-10) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th revision (DSM-IV). Today these classifications are based on scientific research and expert opinion. As well as listing mental disorders, they provide operational definitions and diagnostic criteria that doctors use to reach a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Five different types were outlined in the DSM-III: residual, paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, and undifferentiated. These classifications, while still employed in DSM-IV, are not reliably diagnosed. Many researchers use other systems to classify types of the disorder, like Type 1 schizophrenia and Type 2 schizophrenia , based on positive versus negative symptoms, the progression of the disorder, and the co-occurrence of other mental illness. The theory is that differentiating schizophrenia types based on clinical symptoms will help to determine different causes of the disorder.

Additionally, research also uncovered when schizophrenia was most likely to emerge.  It was discovered that schizophrenia can occur at all ages but tends to occur in the late teens to the early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women. Experiencing schizophrenia at ages younger than 12 or older than 40 is uncommon.

Schizophrenia Treatment in the 20th Century

In the 1930s scientists thought schizophrenia was hereditary. Then after the World War II people began to wonder whether schizophrenia was a reaction to pathological relationships, or patterns of communication within an individual’s family. The management of schizophrenia generally took place in large asylums, where people remained confined for much of their lives.

Doctors began using antipsychotic drugs around the middle of the 20th century. The first antipsychotic drug, chlorpromazine, became available in the 1950s.  A French surgeon, Henri Laborit, tested it as an anesthetic on soldiers and noticed that they became calmer. Later, research in a trial showed that these drugs were effective against the acute symptoms of schizophrenia. It started an era of hope for schizophrenia sufferers, their loved ones, and their careers.

Type 1 vs Type 2 Schizophrenia

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when it comes to Type 1 vs Type 2 schizophrenia, there are marked differences between the two types. Type 1, also known as positive schizophrenia, is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and formal thought disorder based on issues with dopamine-related activity in the brain. Individuals with Type 2, or negative, schizophrenia have symptoms that include social withdrawal, lack of motivation, lack of emotional responses, and poverty of speech, caused by structural brain abnormalities. 

Eradicating the Stigma Surrounding Schizophrenia

Through research we now have a better understanding of schizophrenia, including its types. It’s through education that we can start to eradicate the negative stigma that shrouds this illness.  A greater understanding of schizophrenia has opened multiple avenues for treatment, and a broad range of pharmacological, psychological, and social interventions have been scientifically proven to work. Thanks to fast paced on-going medical research a breakthrough medications and treatments are increasingly likely. Today, those diagnosed and living with schizophrenia have a better chance than at any other time in history of leading fulfilled, independent lives.

Schizophrenia Treatment at Pasadena Villa

At Pasadena Villa, we provide treatment for schizophrenia in therapeutic environments that promote well-being, recovery, and personal motivation. There are multiple levels of care available at each of our Pasadena Villa psychiatric treatment centers, including residential treatment for schizophrenia. Our programs include:

To learn more about schizophrenia treatment at Pasadena Villa, call our admissions team today at 833.538.1365 or fill out our contact form.





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