Hidden Valley Road

Robert Kolker
The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease. Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins--aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony--and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?      What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.      With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.


Reviewed: 2020-05-18
This is a fantastic look at mental illness in a family that blends together history of mental health treatment and family history. The Galvin family, led by Don and Mimi as the parents, had 12 (yes 12... they were good Catholics) children in Colorado. Schizophrenia has a prevalence rate of just about 1% of the general population, but out of their 10 boys, 6 of them developed schizophrenia (or something similar to that with psychotic features). It's quite an extraordinary study. This family was a prime target for mental health research, and their blood and tissue samples were instrumental in multiple studies of the genetics of schizophrenia. The development of knowledge around the disorders the the evolution (or lack of) treatment opportunities is fascinating, as the men in this family developed schizophrenia right as the medication landscape was changing, as well as the developmental theories around schizophrenia (the schizophrenogenic mother was still the prime theory as the first kids were diagnosed). Additionally, the toll that the diagnosis took on the non-diagnosed family members was immense. Truly a fascinating story all around. Would highly recommend to anyone interested in mental health and family dynamics.
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