Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist, wrote in 1913 that the causes of schizophrenia were “wrapped in impenetrable darkness.” He outlined the symptoms that still characterize the disorder, including delusions, hallucinations and disorganized thinking. Kraepelin used a different term—“dementia praecox”—that reflected his belief in the disease's unremitting downward course (dementia) and its early onset (praecox).
Today we no longer embrace either dementia or praecox as components of schizophrenia, but the impenetrable darkness he described still lingers. Schizophrenia's causes and mechanisms remain poorly understood, and the most common treatments do little to restore patients to health. Between 70 and 80 percent of individuals who have schizophrenia are unemployed at any given time, and the vast majority of these sufferers will remain dependent on disability insurance throughout the course of life. The cost of the disorder to society, in terms of lost wages and lifelong medical care, is on the order of billions of dollars. And for the approximately 1 percent of the population that struggles with the disorder and their families, the effects can be devastating.