John Leonard Adams and schizophrenia

Jamie sent me this article about John Leonard Adams, a man who was listed on Charley until I resolved his case last month. He had been listed as missing from New Mexico since 1997. No one knows what happened over the next four years, but in October 2001 he was found dead of head trauma (accident? homicide? doesn’t say) in Pennsylvania and buried in a potter’s field as a John Doe. He was identified by fingerprints and his body has been returned to his family in Washington.

John Adams had schizophrenia and this is what lead to his disappearance. It can be somewhat controlled with medication, but a lot of schizophrenics resist taking medicine because (A) they “lack insight” in the psychiatric parlance, meaning they don’t realize they’re sick and (B) the side effects on the anti-psychotic drugs are often really terrible. John apparently couldn’t think when he was taking his meds, and there can be some bad physical side effects too, like drooling. And on top of it all, the drugs usually don’t work all that well.

There are a lot of schizophrenics listed on Charley. I did a search for the word and turned up 1,700 results. I should note, though, that back before around 1980, “schizophrenia” was often used as a catch-all term for many mental illnesses, especially those involving psychosis. There are a lot of people who were diagnosed with schizophrenia in the sixties and seventies who would today be diagnosed with depression, or a personality disorder, etc.

In any case it is a terrible illness, probably the worst mental illness you can get. People with schizophrenia have a very high rate of suicide. They often end up in jail, not because they are violent or inherently criminal but because the mental health system is broken and they can’t get help. Like, a psychotic person standing on the sidewalk yelling to the voices in his head might get arrested for disturbing the peace. It seems especially tragic when you have a gifted young person — as John Adams was — cut down by this disease in the prime of life. It usually strikes people in their teens or twenties. I have heard of people sort of “outgrowing” the illness and more or less stabilizing once they become elderly — if they live that long.

I wonder if anyone has done a study to see how many people who get reported missing have schizophrenia or some other severe mental illness. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at five or ten times the rate in the general population.