What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition which has several psychological symptoms. This severe, chronic brain disorder affects how a person feels, behaves and thinks.
It affects about one percent of the population and can severely limit the inflicted individual. (1)
There is a common misunderstanding that people with this condition have multiple personalities (Multiple Personality Disorder). This is not the case. It is a complicated illness with many symptoms affecting a person’s behavior, thoughts and feelings. (2)
The first symptoms usually appear in early adulthood. Men generally begin displaying symptoms in their early 20’s while for women it tends to be late 20’s or early 30’s.
There may be subtle signs earlier in life. These might include poor performance in school or difficulty maintaining relationships. It is unusual for children or adolescents to suffer from this condition. (3)
There are common symptoms of this condition defined as positive or negative.
Based in psychosis, these symptoms are not usually seen in healthy people. People who display these symptoms might lose touch with reality and live in their own world.
These symptoms include:
Lack of Insight
This reflects an inability to appreciate that the symptoms do not reflect reality.
Hallucinations are when someone sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels things which only exist in their mind. The most common form of hallucination is hearing voices.
While these voices appear real to the person hearing them, they are not heard by anyone else. The voices are sometimes pleasant and friendly, but more often they are critical, rude, annoying or abusive.
The voices might talk about thoughts and behavior. They could give instructions or describe events happening around the person. They might speak directly to the person hearing them, or there could be many voices discussing different topics.
These voices might appear to be coming from one place like a radio or television, or from many places. (4, 5)
A person experiencing delusions believes they are real, even though they are based on strange, unrealistic or mistaken views. They can develop over a period of time or manifest suddenly.
Delusions and hallucinations are sometimes connected. For example, they may think someone is monitoring their actions because they hear voices describing what they are doing.
A person might think they are being persecuted by some criminal organisation. They could feel governments or establishments are conspiring against them. They might imagine they are being watched, followed or chased.
They could also imagine that someone, often a family member, is trying to poison them.
Everyday events might hold a different meaning for people experiencing delusions. They see or hear hidden messages, meant only for them, in newspapers or on television.
They can see messages and signs instructing them to do certain things. They might also imagine they are a famous person or have close links to one.
They sometimes think that their actions and thoughts are being controlled by an outside influence.
These delusions are based on various different subjects. These might include delusions of grandeur, or be sexual or religious in connotation. (7, 8)
This describes symptoms of illogical or distorted speech. An individual might have problems keeping their thoughts rational. Their speech might be disjointed and hard to understand.
Concentration will be difficult and the mind will drift from one idea or thought to another. Some sufferers describe thoughts as being hazy or misty when this happens.
People will have problems making themselves understood. They might go off on a tangent half way through a sentence. (9, 10)
Changes in Thoughts and Behavior
Disorganized unpredictable behavior and unusual choice of dress are associated with schizophrenia. An individual’s behavior might be viewed as inappropriate. They could become very agitated and swear and shout without provocation.
Some feel that their thoughts don’t belong to them and they are being controlled by an outside force. They also think ideas have been planted by someone else.
Some people think that thoughts are being removed from their mind, or that their body has been taken over by someone else. They feel their thoughts, movements and actions are being directed by another person. (11)
The negative symptoms often appear a few years before the first schizophrenic episode. They progress slowly, and gradually get worse.
A person may withdraw from social situations. They will stop caring about their appearance and their personal hygiene. They might also lack motivation and interest in life in general.
They may leave home less often and becoming withdrawn. Lack of concentration and decreased communication will also be experienced.
Emotional expression, whether vocally or facially, will also be absent or noticeably reduced. (12, 13)
There are no stages of schizophrenia. However there are classifications set around the diagnosis. (14)
These are time based and relate to symptoms of the condition.
The first group of symptoms will have one of the following present most of the time for a period of a month:
A person hears their own thoughts out loud or they feel their thoughts can be heard by others. They may also be withdrawn.
Delusion of Control
This involves the false belief that their feelings, thoughts behaviors or impulses are being controlled. This could be perceived as another person, group of people or another external force.
This symptom indicates a belief that certain things hold a message for them. For example, they might see the face of jesus in a cloud and believe god is communicating with them.
A person hears voices talking about them or their body, or giving a running commentary on their life.
A person will experience persistent delusions which are inappropriate or bizarre.
The second group of symptoms will have at least two of the following present most of the time for a period of a month.
Hallucinations and Delusions
An individual will experience persistent hallucinations and delusions.
A person’s speech is irrelevant or incoherent.
A person will display behavioral traits which are considered catatonic.
Marked apathy, an inappropriate mood or lack of emotion will be present.
Many people have a good prognosis following treatment, but there is no cure. It is possible to manage the symptoms and have periods of recovery.
Medications might reduce existing symptoms and the chance of further episodes. The drugs used are antipsychotics usually prescribed in pill or liquid form. A doctor will work with a patient to decide on the appropriate drugs and dosage.
This treatment helps people cope with everyday life. It teaches skills which help someone to deal with the challenges of their condition. Alongside medication, this helps people lead productive lives.
It also helps people acquire coping skills to address the challenges of this condition. People who use this treatment regularly are less likely to experience relapses. It might prevent the need for hospitalisation.
Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC)
This treatment involves many different aspects and agencies. They work together to improve quality of life and reduce symptoms. It is a combination of medication and psychosocial therapies.
These are further supported by case management and family involvement. Education and employment services also play a part. (15)
What is schizophrenia? It is a mental health condition which causes several different psychological symptoms. This severe, chronic brain disorder affects how a person feels, behaves and thinks.
What are the signs of schizophrenia? The symptoms of this condition include hallucinations, delusions and many other behavioral challenges.
How do you develop schizophrenia? The actual cause remains unknown. While schizophrenia runs in families, there are other factors which might make someone likely to be afflicted. These include brain imbalances, exposure to viruses, problems during birth, malnutrition before birth and psychosocial factors. (16)
How are you diagnosed for schizophrenia? There are criteria which assess a person’s condition relating to symptoms.
What is the best treatment for schizophrenia? Treatments involve medication, psychosocial treatments and coordinated specialty care.
What are the long term complications of schizophrenia? Unless treated, schizophrenia can seriously impact a person’s daily life.
Is schizophrenia considered a disability? Schizophrenia is not considered a disability. Depending on the severity of symptoms, someone might qualify for social security benefits.
Is there a cure for schizophrenia? There is not currently a cure for this condition. However, there are treatments available that are successful at managing schizophrenic episodes. These enable sufferers to lead productive lives. (18)
Is schizophrenia life threatening? The condition is not considered life threatening. However, the symptoms can render a person incapable of recognizing life threatening illnesses. (19)
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition which causes several different psychological symptoms. This severe, chronic brain disorder affects how a person feels, behaves and thinks.
This condition can be challenging for both the person suffering and their families. The actual cause of this long term, severe condition remains unknown.
The good news is that there are treatments available. People with this condition are able to lead rewarding, productive lives with minimal relapses. There are programs available in the community which offer ongoing support to schizophrenics and their families. (20)