The history of schizophrenia goes back thousands of years. Over the centuries, schizophrenics have been considered mystics, saints, possessed by evil spirits or servants of the Devil. Schizophrenia treatment in history has been as gentle as using music and as violent as resorting to ice-pick surgery.

Schizophrenia in History: From Ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages

Two thousand years before the birth of Christ, an Egyptian book called the Book of the Heart described a mental condition with symptoms resembling schizophrenia. To the ancient Egyptians, the heart and mind were intricately linked, and mental symptoms were signs of physical heart ailments. The Book of the Heart may be history’s earliest reference to schizophrenia.

The Middle Ages saw Europe’s first tentative steps toward schizophrenia treatment. History shows, however, that schizophrenia was completely misunderstood at the time.

Schizophrenia treatment during the Middle Ages was basically exorcism. Attempts to cast out the “evil spirits” sometimes required that the “possessed” listen to certain types of music. Other exorcisms were more severe: Holes might be drilled into the skull to release the spirits, a treatment that no doubt killed more often than it cured.

History of Schizophrenia: The 19th Century

Although the 19th century saw early steps towards modern schizophrenia treatment, history reveals that “lunatic asylums” of the time were often little more than human zoos. For a fee, well-to-do ladies and gentlemen toured the asylums, viewing the patients.

Schizophrenia in History: Treatment in the 20th Century

Schizophrenia treatment history abounds in unusual treatments and bizarre “cures.” The 20th century stands out in the history of schizophrenia because it saw the first effective schizophrenia treatment. History reports the first antipsychotic drug was created in 1952.

The 20th century also saw some controversial schizophrenia “cures.” Portuguese doctor Egus Moniz developed the lobotomy in the 1930s and won a Nobel Peace prize for his work in 1949.

The lobotomy procedure cut the nerve fibers from the frontal lobe to the interior of the brain, where emotions are generated. After a lobotomy, a patient was often less agitated and aggressive.

Patients were also left indifferent and with blunted emotions, but this didn’t diminish lobotomy’s popularity as a schizophrenia treatment. Patients could be released from hospitals after lobotomies, saving both hospitals and family members money.

In one of the darkest moments in the history of schizophrenia, American neurologist John Freeman developed his own lobotomy procedure. Freeman traveled America performing lobotomies before audiences of journalists and medical professionals.

With the patient under anesthesia, Freeman placed an ice pick just above the eyeball. Using a hammer, he drove the ice pick into the patient’s brain to a depth of approximately one inch.

Lobotomies fell into disfavor because patients often died from lobotomy-induced epilepsy or surgical infections. Severe brain damage was also common. Between the 40s and the 50s, over 40,000 Americans were lobotomized.

Shock therapy developed at the same time when lobotomies were darkening schizophrenia treatment history. Approaches to shock therapy varied. Some doctors used insulin injections while others preferred Metrazol or electricity. Insulin often left patients in comas. Early electroconvulsive therapy used high levels of electricity and no anesthetic. Today’s electroconvulsive treatments are significantly safer.


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Walters, R. (n.d.). Schizophrenia: A cyclical and heterogeneous dysfunction of cognitive and sensory processing? Retrieved July 7, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 14, 2014