Interview: Catatonic Schizophrenic

An interview with a young man demonstrating negativism in a catatonic schizophrenic state

This short video gives an insight into the mental health of a young man. According to the psychologists examining him, he displays a catatonic schizophrenic mental disorder. The interview seeks to enlighten his condition to psychologists and/or students of psychology.

The interview is a part of a longer psychiatric interview series, produced for the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, by the Motion Picture Division, Theatre Arts Department, University of California, Los Angeles in the year 1961. The young man is identified as patient number 18 out of courtesy for his privacy.

Catatonic schizophrenia is serious neurological or psychological condition in which two kinds of behaviours are typically displayed: stupor and motor rigidity or excitement. When people experience rigidity or stupor, they are unable to speak, respond or even move.

Who was Patient 18?

There are different stories as to who patient 18 was and how his life turned out. These stories are interwoven from internet derived rumors and comments of those who supposedly knew him. Medical records on patient 18 are few.

Since the video gained viral interest, some of these stories have gained traction. Starting from rumors to becoming facts for those who are looking to sate their curiousity.

Here are two of these stories which spread on the net without any known credible sources:

His name is ‘Stephen E.’. He is 79 now and lives with his wife of 43 years in a peaceful setting. Here is what Stephen said:

I had multiple arrests (2 felonies) and hospitalizations on my road from crisis to regaining my independence and dignity.

If I hadn’t had a social worker;
if I hadn’t had a doctor;
if I hadn’t had medications, …

I would be homeless;
I’d be in jail;
or I’d be dead.
But I’m well!

This is what happens when you:
have the services;
have a solution (and medication does help me.);
have someone to lead you to the place you need to be in order to move forward with your life; for me it was my dad.

Around 1969 or ’70 (don’t remember), I had a psychotic ‘break’ and my dad got tired of fighting with me;
I ended up walking down the street naked at night.
A police officer who was ‘Crisis-Intervention trained’ picked me up.
He treated me with respect.
I said, ‘Don’t handcuff me; I haven’t broken the law.’
He says ‘Okay.’
He says ‘What kind of music do you like?’,
and I said, ‘Rock and Roll!’, and he turns the radio dial until he picks up the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’. I’ll never forget that.
I remember saying ‘This is better than a taxi ride!’

And then I got a social worker, who led me to a good psychiatrist, who prescribed meds.

Then I became well;

I have a lovely wife, kids, and grandkids, and 1 great-grandkid!
I pay taxes!;
I have friends;
I graduated with a Masters in Social Working;
I served as a member of the ‘Intergovernmental Serious Mentally Ill and Serious Emotional Disorder Committee (ISMICC) which consists of 14 non-federal employees who are tasked with reporting annually to Congress about the state of mental health care in the nation.

I’m well!

Another commenter tells a rather different story about patient 18: “Stephen” presumably ended his life by drug overdose after having spent 40 or so years in and out of health institutions.

This man was my uncle. I’m not going to give any names, but for those of you who are concerned with how things turned out for him, not well. There’s so much to address here.

First let me say that he was being treated in this video with meds. Without the medication his mood ranged from complete delusion to catatonic.

As for being gay, I don’t think he had much of a sex drive at all. With or without meds.

As for the idea that he was put here because he was gay by some unloving family, that’s ridiculous. I don’t have time to say all the things my family tried just to make his existence somewhat peaceful just for his own sake.

My family had a couple of openly homosexual and lesbians in it even back in the sixties and with the exception of my mother’s father no one gave a shit. My uncle suffered with meds and even more without.

After forty some odd years, most of which he spent in institutions, he took his own life by way of drug overdose.

By the way, the comment about the plot twist, he never had a piano was funny because he didn’t. His seeming obsession with piano came and went as did obsessions with religion, especially the Catholic Church and government.

As far as I know he couldn’t play a lick. He was very ill at his best and a living shell at his worst. I hope that answers some questions because that’s all I have to say on the matter.

He’s been gone since the late eighties and I really hope that other members of my family don’t see this video, mostly because of the comments from people that somehow think they understand him better than the people who suffered with him.

One last thing, I think people thought that he was talking about sitting or standing effeminately or something. No, he was talking about sitting or standing motionless for hours.

Usually not even his facial expression would change but when it did it was usually related to something in his mind only.

I really can’t begin to tell you all how heartbreaking the whole thing was. He did seem intelligent and with meds he did remind me of a high functioning guy with autism I once met.

Although either story is believable; it is to be remembered both stories are un-sourced with no credibility or factual evidence.

Until the Department of Psychiatry willingly hands over patient details to the public on patient 18 – who he really was and what happened to him is still partly shrouded in mystery.

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Interview: Catatonic Schizophrenic
  • Info
  • Release date1961
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Unknown
  • Production companyMotion Picture Division