Schizophrenia is one of the most mysterious and destructive of severe mental illnesses. A classification of symptoms rather than a specific condition, sufferers may have hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, catatonia and/or extremely disordered thinking and behaviour. The illness progresses with psychotic episodes or ‘breaks’ that damage the brain, leading to more illness, injuries, legal and financial difficulties, and even death. Schizophrenia affects around 1 per cent of the population directly, and countless others indirectly. 

freud vs. jung

The word ‘schizophrenia’ was first used in 1911. At that time, Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, wrote a case study based on the diary of a German former judge called Daniel Schreber, who wrote about his experience of his own severe mental illness. Freud decided that Schreber suffered from an extreme form of neurosis and that his delusions could be interpreted the same way that dreams could. Others, however, including Freud’s friend and disciple Carl Jung, strongly disagreed. Jung believed that there was something genetic or a physical defect in the brain that caused schizophrenia. That argument between nurture (environmental factors) and nature (genetic factors) ended Freud and Jung’s professional relationship. It has had a major influence on the way the illness has been perceived, researched and treated ever since.

the galvins

Freud’s influence was at its peak in 1960s America, when Don and Mimi Galvin, an upper-middle class Irish-Catholic couple were making their home in Colorado Springs in western US. Don worked as a teacher in a new Air Force academy, while Mimi brought up their family of ten boys and two girls. But by the time the eldest son, Donald, had reached his 20s, the Galvin’s perfect lives were beginning to fall apart. Donald’s behaviour had become too strange and threatening to ignore. With time, five of the other Galvin boys began to display the symptoms of schizophrenia. 


The illness devastated the entire Galvin family. But the Galvins were also essential to understanding schizophrenia better. It was rare that so many siblings suffer from the illness, and their genetic material proved vital for research. In 2017, the journalist Robert Kolker was asked by the youngest siblings, Margaret and Mary, to write their family’s story. As he put together the book, reading extensively and speaking to family members, psychiatrists and geneticists about the illness, Kolker realised just how extraordinary the Galvins were.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind