As the prefrontal cortex completes its final wiring, about one percent of adolescents and young adults develop the brain disease schizophrenia. People with the disease typically hear voices, experience other delusions and hallucinations, and have emotional disturbances.Neuroscientists believe that the foundation for the disease is laid in infancy, as neurons migrate throughout the brain.


Stress is believed to contribute to the severity of schizophrenia. An environment that lowers stress, such as a supportive family, can help delay the disease or lessen its impact.

The complex process creates the possibility of faulty connections. Somehow, in a process not fully understood, the defective neuronal networks lie dormant until activation during adolescence or early adulthood

The schizophrenic experiences spontaneous stimulation of sensory areas of the brain. Neurons wired for the sensation of sound discharge on their own, like gas-soaked rags igniting spontaneously in a hot, dark garage. In the absence of sights and sounds, the schizophrenic’s brain creates a powerful illusion of reality.


UNTIL THE 19th century, observers viewed mental illness as a form of madness. They burned the afflicted at the stake or locked them up. Doctors typically considered mental illnesses incurable and lumped them together under the common label dementia praecox (or early insanity).

Not so Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. In 1911 he divided mental illnesses into groups that shared symptoms and dubbed a common group of abnormalities schizophrenia, for the splitting of emotion and reason in a patient’s mind.

Bleuler noted that some patients in a Zurich mental hospital got better on their own, sometimes spontaneously. Unlike his contemporaries, he believed schizophrenia could be treated as a disease, a tenet that’s commonly accepted in the medical community today.

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