Schizophrenia in the past… or not

medical scene attributed to Sabuncuoglu The American Journal of Psychiatry this month published a letter by Edmund S. Higgins and Samet Kose on the absence of any mention of a condition resembling schizophrenia in the influential 15th-century Muslim medical text by Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu (1385-1470). This is just one more piece of evidence in a case that has been gradually built by a number of researchers in recent decades that,¬†unlike mania and depression, schizophrenia may not have appeared on the scene until the 18th century (see e.g., Louis Sass’ Madness and Modernism).

The journal also published a reply by Osman Sabuncuoglu and Naheeda Ismail contending that there are reasons to suppose that schizophrenics were not likely to have come to the attention of physicians in Sabuncuoglu’s time and place.

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About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

1 thought on “Schizophrenia in the past… or not

  1. The study cited below — Evans, McGrath, and Milns (2003) — provides another way in. Their conclusion shows interesting parallels to the argument offered by Higgins and Kose: “In contrast to many other psychiatric disorders that are represented in ancient Greek and Roman literature, there were no descriptions of individuals with schizophrenia in the material assessed in this review.”

    Evans, K., McGrath, J., & Milns, R. (2003). Searching for schizophrenia in ancient Greek and Roman literature: A systematic review. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 107(5), 323-330.

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