"Twenty years ago, when somebody had cancer you didn't mention it. It was too disgraceful for the family," said Mr. Radin, a partner of Radin, Glass & Co., a New York accounting firm. "Everybody knows someone with a mental illness. It's just not talked about."

Mr. Radin, 77 years old, and Ms. Katowitz, 62, the university deputy controller at the City University of New York, are on a mission to get people talking. Their son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1986 after he had a breakdown the first week of his freshman year of college at Columbia College. Since then, he's been in treatment and lived in semi-supported communities. He now has an apartment, a volunteer job and an associate's degree.

Back then, the literature on schizophrenia pointed to "bad parenting" as a cause, said Ms. Katowitz.

That's been debunked, but the disease is still very much a mystery, she said. Schizophrenia is an umbrella diagnosis; there are many types and many effects. There is a school of thought that as a patient reaches middle age, it "gets a little better," she said.

For more than 17 years, Mr. Radin and Ms. Katowitz, who live in Brooklyn, have made donations to the New York-based Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, a group that provides grants to fund scientific research on psychiatric disorders.

This year, they are giving $120,000 to the organization to support research. In total, they have given $780,000 to the foundation, supporting 13 scientists. Mr. Radin first learned of the organization when he saw an advertisement in the newspaper.

Ms. Katowitz decides which researchers to support, using a list provided by the foundation. The researchers are all young and early in their careers and the grants, at $30,000 a year, serve to provide a toehold into further funding by other institutions.

The couple has supported research into understanding the first episode of schizophrenia, genetic variations that may confer a risk for schizophrenia and gene testing to see how patients respond to antipsychotic medications, among other things. Many grants have gone to New York-based institutions, including Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine.

For most substantive questions asked in this field, there are no answers today, said Mr. Radin.

"And people are looking for answers ... is there some way ultimately to predict, maybe before there is a breakdown?" he said. "When there's a breakdown with a teenager, you're never sure what's happening because maybe it's normal teenage growth problems."

"Would intervening earlier help? Nobody has that answer," said Mr. Radin.

"My perspective as a mom: the sooner you find it, the quicker you can use some of the new drugs, the better off the child is," said Ms. Katowitz. 

Source: http://online.wsj.com/europe

AuthorPauliina Ikonen