Even though I’m married to a paranoid schizophrenic, the question of how many schizophrenics might reside in these United States of America never crossed my mind–until today. A news commentator on the radio made the statement that, “…8.1 percent of all people are schizophrenic.”
If that were true, we’d be looking at a whomping lot of people suffering from schizophrenia. When the clock tipped us over from 2013 to New Year’s Day on 2014, the estimated U.S. population was 317 million and change. Take that figure times 8.1 percent, and you’d be looking at more than 25 million schizophrenics in the USA alone–and as much as I love Pam, having to deal with 25 million of her within the borders of our great nation would be incredibly daunting.
Fortunately, the talking head on the radio turned out to have his facts scrambled right along with his brains. I didn’t catch his name, so can’t point any fingers, but the 8.1 percent figure is way out of line. Online research, depending on which purportedly authoritative website you consult, places the actual incidence of schizophrenia in the USA at something less than 1 percent of the population, with some estimates running as low as three tenths of 1 percent. So, instead of more than 25 million sufferers, the true figure (if the official estimates are anywhere near accurate) lies somewhere between 950,000 and 3,170,000.
That’s still a lot of schizophrenics, but definitely better than 25 million. Schizophrenia is not a fun condition.
Where did the erroneous 8.1 percent figure come from? After a few hours of online research, I suspect I know…but before we get to that, let’s take a look at what on Earth schizophrenia might be. How is it defined? For many years, only half tongue in cheek, I’ve personally defined it as, “…the catchall psychiatrists use when they have no clue what a patient’s real problem might be. If they can’t diagnose it, they call it schizophrenia.”
As you may have guessed, I’m not terribly impressed with the average “professional” whose arrogant claim to Godhood is nothing more than a long string of initials after his name (M.D., PhD, et cetera), a legal monopoly on the right to write prescriptions, and the belief that the patient is always wrong.
However, there are less judgmental definitions and/or descriptions of schizophrenia out there.
Perhaps the best (i.e. simplest and most understandable) definition of schizophrenia comes from none other than the renowned Mayo Clinic:
by the Mayo Clinic Staff
Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior.
Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality or multiple personality. The word “schizophrenia” does mean “split mind,” but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking.
Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, requiring lifelong treatment.
Note: While schizophrenia is not the same as multiple personality, it’s entirely possible for one individual to suffer from both disorders at the same time. Pam (my wife) is one such case. She pretty much whipped the other personalities and became “just Pam” a number of years ago…but the schizophrenia will not go away, ever, and requires lifetime treatment consisting of (a) a functioning medication regimen, (b) a competent psychiatrist, (c) an environment kept as low-stress as possible, and (d) a live-in “common sense psychologist” (unlicensed) in the form of her husband, yours truly.
It would not be difficult for either Pam or me to believe there were more schizophrenics out there than there really are, on three counts:
1. We spot schizophrenics, both old acquaintances and total strangers, all the time. It’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly begin seeing similar models all over the place.
2. Schizophrenics appear to be attracted to each other on the old “birds of a feather flock together” principle. On the downside, a double-schiz flare-up, two schiz’s rubbing each other the wrong way, is always a danger, especially in confined settings such as mental health institutions.
3. On the other hand, applying the “it takes one to know one” principle, Pam can spot a fellow schizophrenic in a heartbeat, even if she’s never seen that person before, ever. As I told her with only moderate exaggeration this afternoon while getting ready to write this post, “You can spot a schiz a mile away. Me, I have to get within a quarter mile or so.”
Now, getting back to the “8.1 percent mystery”…and…
…mystery solved. There’s a HealthAffairs.org article titled Rising Mental Health Costs: What Are We Getting For Our Money? In a section subtitled “Changes in treated prevalence”, author Benjamin G. Druss states (emphasis mine),
…While rates of psychotherapy remained constant during the 1990s, the proportion of the U.S. population using a psychotropic drug increased from 3.4 percent in 1987 to 8.1 percent by 2001….
The percentage of folks on “shrink pills” (as Pam and I refer to them) is even higher now. Our nation continues to nose-dive into the deep end of the antidepressant medication pool. But in 2001, yep, we hit that magical number, 8.1 percent. So, while we Americans do not have to deal with 25 million schizophrenics (Whew!), we definitely do have 25 million (or more) citizens who don’t feel they can make it through the day without a bit of better living through chemistry.
Wow, this is scary stuff. In a word, our nation is nuts! Never mind worrying about the Ugly American; we need to start thinking about the Insane American! What happens when all this chemical support crashes and burns, perhaps in an instant, as would be the case if our nation got hit with a major EMP (electromagnetic pulse) warfare wave that crashed the national power grid and most modern electronics in a single burst? From nicotine to alcohol to heroin to antidepressants, all gone, millions upon millions of men, women, and children in simultaneous, mind-bending, emotion-twisting, gut-wrenching withdrawal….
Can you spell Armageddon?
And that’s just here in the good ole USA. We’re not the only country hosting a combination of schizophrenics, other mentally unhealthy folks, and addicts of various sorts.
So…perhaps the answer to the question is simply, “We have too many schizophrenics in the USA.” Right?
Um…no. It’s not that simple. Schizophrenics bring some assets to the table, too.
Example: For whatever reason, both Pam and I have proven ourselves to be trouble magnets to a certain degree. She more than me, but there were numerous times during my early marriages when I could see danger coming down the track straight at us, gathering steam and blowing its whistle. Before Pam came into my life, I would alert my Wife of the Moment to the need to move fast to duck the bullet–sometimes literally a bullet–coming our way. Also before Pam, the Wife of the Moment would either pooh-pooh the danger, refusing to take it seriously, or else simply say, “Sayonara, sucker. Been nice knowing ya!” But not my paranoid schizophrenic Pammie. If I tell her I’m smelling trouble coming and we need to get a move on, she’s busy packing before I finish my explanation.
The right paranoid schizophrenics are, at least in some situations, the ultimate survivors.
The wrong schizophrenics…not so much. We once met a young man, still a teenager at the time, on a back mountain road in rural Montana. Both of us recognized him as a schiz on sight, and not one of the “good ones”. His depressed aura was so dark that even I could sense the black cloud surrounding him. We became close friends with his parents and his brother over time, but never did we forget that the young schiz was headed for trouble and taking others with him if he could. He eventually stole his brother’s pregnant girlfriend, ending up with a wife and two young sons, one of them his own. Some years later, enraged when his wife finally pulled the plug and left him, he accused her of putting more than 300 child porn photos–some of them featuring his own two boys–on their home computer. But the porn work was all his, not his wife’s, and the feds figured that out in half a heartbeat.
That young schizophrenic has been doing time in federal prison for nearly a decade now. As a bottom feeder, of course; no one sits lower on the prison totem pole than the despised child molester.
So, once again, how many schizophrenics do we have in the USA? The answer: Some who are of overall benefit to society (Pam), some who are of overall detriment to society (the child molester)–and, like other segments of the population, a whole big batch of folks roiling around in the middle somewhere.
Going back to the Mayo Clinic definition, remember that,
…Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally….
A million? Three million? Too many? Certainly not too few, right? In any event, while the darker schizophrenic individuals will find few advocates or defenders, there seems little doubt that this segment of the population involves a fascinating group of people.
Were I to head back to school to get my PhD in psychology, The Contributions of the Schizophrenic to American Society would be a great title for a doctoral thesis…if it could be sold to the academic powers that be.