February is Black History Month, so it’s a great time to look at the contributions to the mental health and addiction field by black Canadians and Americans. Dr Solomon Fuller was the first black psychiatrist recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. He graduated from medical school in 1897, and his main study interests were Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and manic depression. Dr Fuller studied under Dr Alzheimer in Munich for a year, and continued his work in neuropathology once back in the USA. He worked as a psychiatrist and consultant at Westborough Hospital, and an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine. There is now The Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in Boston.
The beginnings of schizophrenia
The term schizophrenia only came about in 1910. Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler chose the Greek words schizo (split) and phren (mind). He chose those to refer to the symptoms of dissociation or ‘loosening’ of thoughts and feelings. This new term was to counteract the existing concept that these patients were experiencing premature dementia. Schizophrenia sufferers were previously considered to be having mental deterioration and it was presumed they would eventually act as someone with dementia. At the same time a clearer idea of schizophrenia was developing, so was our understanding of Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia. Dr Alois Alzheimer, who Dr Solomon Fuller studied under in 1904, first saw physical changes to the brain in someone with Alzheimer’s in 1906.
Over one hundred years later, the medical community still has much to learn about the brain and its functions. Although, the development of anti-psychotic medication has greatly improved the lives of modern schizophrenia sufferers. Still, schizophrenia and manic depression are often present in those with concurrent disorders. Concurrent disorders occur when someone is struggling with both substance use and a mental health disorder. Over half of people with schizophrenia have had a substance use problem at one point, and up to 90% have a nicotine addiction. It is now believed a more holistic approach is required to help those suffering with both addiction and mental health successfully.