With this week’s news of the upcoming demise of the Salem, Ore. mental health hospital immortalized in the film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, one should recall the various ways that movies, books, television, and other media have spread misinformation about schizophrenia.
"Schizophrenia is a cruel disease,” writes Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in the essential book for family members and patients, Surviving Schizophrenia. “The lives of those affected are often chronicles of constricted experiences, muted emotions, missed opportunities, unfulfilled expectations. It leads to a twilight existence, a twentieth-century underground man... It is in fact the single biggest blemish on the face of contemporary American medicine and social services; when the social history of our era is written, the plight of persons with schizophrenia will be recorded as having been a national scandal."
Research has now clearly demonstrated that schizophrenia is caused by changes in the brain and that these can be measured by changes in both brain structure and brain function. Over 1,000 such research studies have been published. Schizophrenia is thus a disease of the brain in exactly the same sense that Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease are diseases of the brain.