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Book Review: Schizophrenia: Medicine’s Mystery, Society’s Shame by Marvin Ross

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What is schizophrenia? How does one become schizophrenic? Is it nature or nurture? What about a “schizophrenia” gene? What is needed to lessen schizophrenia’s impact on society?

Marvin Ross has written a primer on schizophrenia, Schizophrenia:  Medicine’s Mystery, Society’s Shame, in which he explains what the disease is (and is not), the effects it has on individuals, families, and society, and current, past, and future treatment methodologies, options, and practices. He explains and details all of this in language the interested reader can easily understand.

One doesn’t need to be intimately familiar with the anatomy of the brain and its various functions to understand Schizophrenia, although some knowledge makes for quicker reading (since the information has already been processed and digested). Ross gives a complete litany of the disease’s effects, both positive and negative (not in the sense of “good” and “bad.” Positive effects are those caused by the disease, such as hallucinations and dyskinesia; negative effects are the losses it causes, such as memory, coordination, and social skills.).

Ross’s historical emphasis is on deinstitutionalization in the 1960s and 70s, and its effect on both the mentally ill and the society in which they live. This is put into context with descriptions of treatment and institutional conditions going back several centuries, and a look into the decline of asylums into mere warehouses for the afflicted, who were often abused and punished for being ill.

Having schizophrenia is frightening, “Society’s Shame” is its stigmatization of the mentally ill and lack of resources and support offered them. A 2007 survey in Great Britain found that 72% of those surveyed “believe that there is a stigma associated with having a mental illness.” Ross offers statistics on high suicide rates (40-60% of schizophrenics attempt suicide; 10% succeed), the mentally ill homeless, and one’s likelihood of developing schizophrenia.

“Medicine’s Mystery” is the causes of schizophrenia. There are many theories on what causes schizophrenia, but no hard evidence. Some researchers believe it is genetic, others look to the environment. Does smoking marijuana induce schizophrenia or are early-stage schizophrenics attracted to marijuana to relieve their symptoms? Much has been written (and dramatized) about this disease, but — essentially — very little is known.

Ross provides a plethora of endnotes, citing his sources, as well as a list of famous people who had (or have) schizophrenia, most of whom are musicians. With the wealth of books written by those who have experience with the disease — either as victims or family members — Schizophrenia is a good resource for gaining insight into the disease itself, its costs to society, and the personal suffering it inflicts.

Schizophrenia is not an academic textbook, but a guide that can easily be understood by readers who are not working on doctorates in psychology or psychiatry. It is highly relevant to current social and economic conditions.

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