By Daniel J. Vance
Schizophrenia is a disabling mental illness that affects perhaps two million Americans. The National Schizophrenia Foundation says a person may have schizophrenia when exhibiting two of these symptoms over a 30-day period: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, or other behaviors such as not speaking or showing emotion.
Only one symptom is necessary if the delusions are bizarre or hallucinations involve hearing voices.
And schizophrenia can tear apart families. "If your spouse, son or daughter has it, you have to realize that they don't think like you," said Mark Littleton, 53, a Kansas City-based author of 78 books in a recent phone interview. "They don't think logically."
Littleton knows. In 1983, he married while working as a pastor in Maryland. He knew going in that his wife-to-be had "emotional problems" involving poor self-image, anger and jealousy. "I thought that by loving her I could help her become more secure in the world," he said.
A year later her ongoing and intense conflicts with churchgoers moved Littleton to abandon his career.
"She also began saying my father was spying on her," he said. "Finally, she thought he was bugging the house, had installed video cameras in walls, and was paying the neighbors to spy on her. I realized then this was far worse than I'd thought."
Just prior to their second child's birth, she was hospitalized three times. A doctor suggested a marital separation because she was physically and verbally abusing Littleton. In 1990, a judge committed her to six weeks in a psychiatric clinic where she was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, a related form of schizophrenia involving a mood disorder.
In 1993, they divorced and a judge granted him custody of their two girls. "The whole time I was trying to be a good, loyal husband and help her," said Littleton, who remarried in 1996.
His ex-wife eventually mysteriously disappeared. Recently, police found her homeless in New Orleans.
"(My ex-wife) would have been the most sane person alive if talking out problems alone works," said Littleton. "The only thing that really helped her was when she consistently took her medication."
The National Schizophrenia Foundation says 75 percent of people developing schizophrenia do so between ages 16 and 25. The illness tends to "run" in families and about 25 percent completely recover. Up to half of all homeless adults may have schizophrenia.