"Mental"" Illness and Schizophrenia: Is There a Mind-Body Connection?

By Patricia S. Lemer, M.Ed., NCC

A friend in Pittsburgh was astonished when I suggested that DDR had something to offer people with schizophrenia. She treats inpatient adults who are so disabled that they cannot work. In addition to heavy medication, her clinic provides three meals a day, rich in wheat and dairy products. In this and most psychiatric facilities, pharmaceuticals are frequently the first, and sometimes the only option doctors choose to alleviate and mask difficult behaviors.

I reminded my friend that autism was originally labeled "childhood schizophrenia," and that almost no one today classifies autism spectrum disorders as "mental" illnesses. Even though The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, still lists that diagnosis, the disease once blamed on refrigerator mothers is now recognized as having other causes.

I first learned about "mental" illness as a child in Pittsburgh. My grandmother "suffered" (a word I cannot stand to this day) from depression. From her forties to her eighties, she went from one "mental" hospital to another, enduring endless talk therapy, experimental drugs, humiliation, and even shock treatments. A kind, gentle woman who loved poetry, music and books, she did not fit in. My family’s efforts to help her were painful for her favorite grand- daughter to watch.

I believe that the injustice I saw as a teen led me to major in psychology in college. What an eye- opener I had my freshman year when my Psych 101 professor introduced me to the work of psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz. His book, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct (Revised Edition)The Myth of Mental Illness, was way ahead of its time in suggesting that talk therapy and labeling people’s behavior as aberrant was unethical. I was fascinated by these ideas.

Unfortunately, mainstream thinking still still considers schizophrenia a "mental" disease. A new book, Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and The Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally IllMad in America by Robert Whitaker documents the history of mistreatment of the mentally ill. This extraordinarily well-researched work confirms what many have suspected: that drug companies skewed their studies, employed charlatan scientists to carry them out and hid dangerous side effects from patients...all to make huge profits.

Yet, we are moving forward. TIME Magazine’s January 20th issue has a cover article entitled "The Link between Mental and Physical Health." This generation’s psychiatrists were educated during the nineties, or what Whitaker calls the decade of "Mad Medicine" when new "breakthrough" drugs were brought to market. They may not know the long history of successful use of diet and nutrition to treat "mental" illness. Orthomolecular medicine is over 50 years old.

The term "orthomolecular" was coined by Linus Pauling in 1952: "ortho" meaning "right" and "molecular" referring to the cells. Thus,"orthomolecular" means supplying the body’s cells with the right mix of nutrients. Carl Pfeiffer, M.D, Ph.D. was a pioneer in nutritional research, and among the first to recognize the mind-body connection. He recommended a combination of B vitamins, zinc and magnesium to abate anxiety, depression, phobias and schizophrenia. Does that nutrient cocktail sound familiar?

In the 80’s, I read the story of Pfeiffer’s patient, Rickie. The daughter of a psychiatrist Frederic Flach, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen. After years seeking help in the wrong places, her father finally found Pfeiffer at the Princeton Bio Center in New Jersey. He and optometrist Melvin Kaplan helped Rickie get well. While Pfeiffer worked on her bio-chemistry with diet and nutrition, Kaplan taught her eyes to work together using lenses, prisms and vision therapy. Today, Rickie is counseling people like herself, and Mel Kaplan primarily sees children with autism.

Pfeiffer’s legacy is the Pfeiffer Treatment Center, a branch of the Health Research Institute in Warrenville, IL. Dr. Pfeiffer became interested in the research conducted at HRI, and worked with the HRI team to correct chemical imbalances until his death in 1988. Then, DDR Professional Advisory Board member, William Walsh, Ph. D., who discovered the importance of MT promoters in autism (see New Developments 7:1,6), named the treatment facility in his honor.

That "mental" illness is biological should be no surprise to those of you who have successfully pursued special diets and nutritional support. My friend’s inability to connect "mental" illness to DDR’s mission helped me realize that what I take for granted is still not generally accepted.

What saddens me is that Pittsburgh has seen so little change of attitude toward "mental" illness in over 40 years. How can DDR expand to reach those working with "mentally" ill or "emotionally" disturbed? If you have access to psychiatric clinics or schools, please share our literature. Wherever there is any crack in the door for consideration of alternatives, we would be pleased to offer a workshop.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 8, Number 2 - Winter, 2002-2003]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.


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