Schizophrenia

My father was the psychiatrist Geoffrey Garfit Wallis. He worked night & day for better understanding & more respect for those suffering from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is the mental disease commonly known as split personality. But in fact it is so much more. It is true that schizophrenics do seem to suffer from strange delusions but often this could the side effects of drugs.

He, my father, made many good changes in the treatment of the mentally ill. Originally he was a navy doctor. Because of the living conditions of sailors at that time, mental illness amongst sailors was rife. He often said that for the sailors who were not officers conditions were worse than prison. He wrote a ground breaking book about the subject. Unfortunately there appears to be no mention of it on the internet.

During the war, my father served as a doctor in the Royal Navy. He completed his degree at UCH in half the normal time; 18 months & then joined the Royal Navy, serving on the destroyer HMS Wenslydale. The ship itself was bisected after the war when it was in dry dock.

There are still reunions amongst the ship’s crew.

But this is not what this is about. This is about what my father did as a psychiatrist. After Word War 2, he trained as a psychiatrist. He did what was known as DPM, diploma of psychiatric medicine. In the Uk, psychiatrists have to be qualified doctors. This is not universally true. In the USA, psychiatrists do not have be medically qualified. It is true to say that there has been much debate as to whether schizophrenia, for example, is an actual disease. Generally schizophrenia is shorthand for split personality. It is not considered ok to call people mad. But semantics have a habit of coming full circle.

Schizophrenics, psychotics, bi-polar may or may not be mad. It depends on the definition of the word. People are hospitalised under the mental health act generally because they are a danger to themselves or to others. It happens that sectioned patients sometimes have difficulty being discharged. You hear stories of people being inside mental hospitals for decades. When my father went to High Royds in Yorkshire, the place had a very bad reputation. Parents used to threaten their children with High Royds when they were naughty. That is not apocryphal. I have spoken to people who were threatened thus when they were children.

Care in the Community is not a popular issue. People, understandably, don’t want a house full of ex sufferers in the house next door. It is an intractable problem. Mental health is a mystery. Genius & creativity are a mystery. It can be said that the human mind; the mind which produces art or whatever is the mind which goes mad or it could be other way round.

But this is not my point. The point is that whether we like it or not a move towards enlightenment with schizophrenics has gone backwards. It seems from a recent report that again we are just locking them up. Schizophrenics are men & women without a voice.

Schizophrenics are…  what?  Mad people, people with split personalities, people simply divorced from reality? It isn’t possible to say. Much of this, as with much is else is … nature or nurture. R. D. Laing in his time was the most influential psychiatrist of all time. His books outsold Freud & Jung in total. There was written about him in the press than any other psychiatrist or psychotherapist or psychologist. These days he is never mentioned. But the time has come or will soon come to reassess his ideas.

My father didn’t have a high opinion of Laing because he (Laing) had put himself outside the mainstream. Yet his ideas were not so very different. My father did prescribe drugs, notably largactil, whatever that, is to an extent that Laing wouldn’t. Laing, himself, was originally an army psychiatrist, my father was a navy psychiatrist. I think they both had unresolved psychological problems.

But now it seems that we are going backwards. It is hard to know why. In theory society is becoming more liberal, more understanding. But treatment of the mentally ill not so.

Much of the increase in schizophrenia is, I daresay, because of the increase in the use of recreational drugs, poor diet in particular & in general & poor lifestyle. The nature & nurture argument goes on. Madness in some form or another has always been with us. I daresay it always will be.

Locking up the mentally ill is not the answer. Treating them might be. Treating them as normal anyway might be the answer. There is a school of thought which says that it is the rest of us who are mad that the mad are normal. There is school of thought which says that madness is a mystical experience, a là Bishop Berkeley. This may or not be true. In most cases not. Changes of consciousness have always fascinated & have been called mystical experiences. But this is a theory more to do with the perceptions, ideas & prejudices of onlookers. Some art, some great art has emanated from mental illness. But most mental illness has not produced any art, great or otherwise.

What is needed is more compassion & more understanding.

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One Response to Schizophrenia

  1. freespeechoneeach says:

    What an interesting account!
    There are very broad definitions attached to schizophrenia diagnostic criteria. And rates of diagnosis vary markedly between ethnic groups, as well as by age and sex.
    I think there are things we cannot ever know, and one of them is how another person experiences the world. We can know what they say of their experiences, and we can try to establish common language, but we can never actually enter another person’s mind and see the world as they do. A clinician making a diagnosis of schiz. has to try to do this; recognise, for example, disordered thinking, delusions and hallucinations, a bit like trying to understand the teeming life under the surface of a pond, by looking at the pond from above. It’s a really hard task; there are bound to be errors sometimes. But people with this dreadful condition certainly do have very special needs, so it’s a task that must be undertaken for their good.
    I understood largactyl to be a fore- runner of the new anti- psychotics and anti- depressants. I think the newer drugs are better; i.e. Clozapine for anti- psych, Prozac for anti- depres.

    The prohibition of (some) recreational drugs is retrograde, in my firm opinion. There are therapeutic potentials galore in cannabis, LSD was developed as a cure for alcoholism, ecstasy is said to be promising in anti- dementia, etc. While these are contraband, research is halted, progress banned by the Government.

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