National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Conquering Schizophrenia

by Peter Wyden

Review by Bill Broderick and Judith Tydings, NAMI Literature Committee, May 1998

In this remarkable book, Peter Wyden interweaves the story of his son's 25-year battle with schizophrenia and the history of the search since the beginning of the century to find an effective way to treat this brain disorder. The writing is masterful; once begun, the book is difficult to put down. The story of his son Jeff shows us setbacks, frustrations, false hopes, and dogged persistence on the father's part in pursuit of solutions. Unlike most similar accounts, this one ends on a note of optimism.

Wyden's skillful telling of the ups and downs of the search for new, effective treatments and medications for schizophrenia reads almost like a detective story. A former writer for Newsweek and executive editor for Ladies Home Journal, Wyden brings to his task wide experience and a network of friends and acquaintances working in the field of mental illness. For more than 25 years he served as his son's case manager. This role became pivotal; as his son's institutional memory, he strove to ensure that new caregivers did not ignore the history of previous treatments and try things that had already failed.

The core of the book is the story of Jeff's battle, beginning in adolescence, to find normalcy. Wyden learned early from other parents, he says, "never to give up on a 'hopeless' psychotic, because the disease is forever in flux." He reveals his frequent embarrassment at his son's often dirty and disheveled appearance and his erratic behavior as well as his own self-doubt about many things. But he didn't give up.

Woven throughout the personal account is the fascinating account of the continuing search for better ways to treat this devastating disease. Wyden is properly scornful of the psychiatric shills who, even today, pontificate that all medication is harmful and that love and psychotherapy is the only answer.

Wyden gives a detailed account of the development of the new drug olanzapine (Zyprexa) beginning in the late 1980s until final FDA approval for its commercial use in October 1996. In March 1997 Jeff began taking olanzapine, though at first with some reluctance. The result a few months later was, in his father's words, "The ugly years have been swept away like a dilapidated stage set... Jeff looks taller, leaner, straighter. His hands don't shake. The mental hospital slouch is gone." Formerly reclusive, he has become sociable, reaching out to friends and organizing his days.

This book is enhanced by eleven pages of notes giving an overview of relevant literature and Wyden's sources, a nineteen-page bibliography, and an index. Itís a must read for anyone touched by the illness and for those who love and treat someone who is ill; and perhaps most importantly, it should appeal to the general public.