American Psychological Foundation
As a 7-year-old in school, Eric Dutch would throw his books on the floor, refuse to participate in class and suffer intense anxiety attacks. Those were some of the early signs, says psychologist Susan E. Dutch, PhD, that her younger brother had schizophrenia.
"He was a sweet, sweet child at home," says Dutch, a professor of psychology at Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts. "But when he got to school, he was a terror."
In the mid-1960s, the local elementary school in East Hampton, Connecticut, wasn't equipped to help a child with Eric's symptoms, says Dutch. When at age 14 Eric became violent at home, her parents' best option was committing him to nearby Connecticut Valley Hospital, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
For 20 years, Eric lived in and out of the hospital as a state ward. By the time he was 34, he was stable — living independently in YMCA housing in Middletown, Connecticut, and working at a grocery store. But his story ended tragically. One unusually cold October morning, state officials arrived for a routine inspection of his room and Eric left the building with no jacket and no place to go. He wasn't seen for 363 days, when a maintenance crew found him 500 yards from his apartment building. He had died of hypothermia.
Now Dutch is taking steps to ensure that people like Eric have a better fate. In memory of her brother, she plans to establish the Eric A. Dutch Memorial Fund through a bequest to the American Psychological Foundation. The fund will support grants for research into the cause of, treatment of and care for people with early-onset schizophrenia — areas in which far more research is needed, Dutch says.
Only about one in 40,000 children develops early-onset schizophrenia, while one in 100 people develops adult-onset schizophrenia. But the pediatric version comes with additional challenges. Symptoms present more gradually and can be overlooked or confused with common childhood misbehaviors, which can prevent children from getting timely treatment and care. The disorder also makes it difficult for children to meet age-appropriate developmental milestones in motor skills, memory and reasoning, and speech and language, which can make managing the disorder when they reach adulthood even harder.
Treatment options are also scarce, adds Dutch. Most researchers focus on adult-onset schizophrenia, and effective treatments for adult-onset schizophrenia don't always help those who developed the disorder as children or teens. It is important that future research studies include children and adolescents in the sample, or as the entire sample, Dutch says. It's her hope that the research funded by her gift to APF will take that step and that, ultimately, one of her future grantees will find a cure.
"I want to get to the bottom of this," says Dutch. "I am determined."
To donate to APF or apply for one of the foundation's more than 40 funding opportunities, go to APF Funding.
Letters to the Editor
- Send us a letter