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.

6 thoughts on “John Leonard Adams and schizophrenia

  1. Marlene March 23, 2011 / 1:31 pm

    It is really, terribly sad. Many schizophrenics who go missing probably committed suicide, and I suspect many of the unidentified suicides were probably mentally ill…depressed almost certainly but probably schizophrenic. We don’t do a very good job of taking care of the mentally ill.

  2. michelle March 23, 2011 / 4:07 pm

    schizophrenia runs in my family on both sides. I have relatives that live in homes that have somewhat adapted to there lives. I have one who has died from medication. I also have an uncle who is in his 60’s that has taken the prescribed medication and has lived a somewhat normal life. He works and lives on his own etc. It is a sad and very complicated sickness. I wonder how many of these people that were diagnosed back in the 60’s,70’s and even 80’s that may have just been depressed and due to medication could live a somewhat more normal life if diagnosed correctly. It is sad.

  3. Kat March 23, 2011 / 9:54 pm

    Personality disorders, bipolar, even other now catagorized mental illnesses or even just learning disablilities have been, over decades, misdiagnosed. It is so sad for all those who have gone missing or passed that only now is society starting to grasp the levels of it. Those who have mental illness are just as likely to get lost as runaways in the system. Or the homeless or prostitutes. They are lower level missing. Now that people are taking more of an interest in MP’s, maybe more will be found or more likely, id’ed.

  4. Heather March 24, 2011 / 1:27 am

    My daughters father was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was pregnant with her. He is now living in a mental institution. It is sad because I feel like this disease cheated her out of knowing her father and I fear for her well-being when she comes of age. I sometimes wonder what set off the chain of events that eventually had him labeled a schizophrenic, his age ( early 20s) or the fact that he had a child coming..

  5. Celeste March 29, 2011 / 12:49 pm

    This is but another reason why doctors needto find different and more effective ways of treating schiofrenic people. But on the other hand they shouldn’t forced against their will to get treatment.

    • Meaghan March 29, 2011 / 12:51 pm

      I am uncertain about treating mentally ill people against their will. On one hand, it often helps them, and if they’re a danger to themselves or others we ought to help them. But I do see forced medical care as a violation of civil rights.

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