Schizophrenia is a complex illness with physical causes. Individuals with schizophrenia have a chemical imbalance in the brain causing them to experience episodes in which they are unable to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. This affects their thoughts, behavior and mood. About one percent of the world's population is affected by this disease, 2.5 million in the United States alone. It usually develops in late adolescence or in the 20's and will typically wax and wane for the rest of a person's life. Schizophrenia often has a significant impact upon an individual and their family, impairing their functioning level and affecting work and social activities.
Myth vs. Fact
Myth: Schizophrenia is multiple personalities or being a "Jekyll and Hyde"
Fact: Individuals may "hear voices" but these are auditory hallucinations due to chemical imbalance, not multiple personalities.
Myth: Schizophrenics are wild and dangerous
Fact: They are often withdrawn and are no more dangerous than anyone else.
Myth: Schizophrenics live in mental hospitals
Fact: Most people with schizophrenia live in a normal home, in a typical community.
Myth: Schizophrenia is caused by poor parenting
Fact: Causes of schizophrenia are a combination of genetics, abnormal chemical processes and brain structure, physical conditions and social environment. We are learning more about this complex disease every day.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
The following symptoms may take months or years to develop, or may emerge all at once. They may appear as irrational or bizarre behaviors.
- Delusions (false, unreal beliefs)
- Hallucinations (sensory experience that originates in the mind, i.e., hearing voices or seeing/touching things that are not present)
- Disorganized thinking evident in disorganized/disjointed speech
- Beliefs that others can hear or "steal" one's thoughts or has the power to control you
- Paranoia - suspicions that others are watching or listening to you, trying to harm you or poison you
- Becoming more withdrawn/introverted, poor personal care
- Severe limitations of emotions or inappropriate expressions of emotions (inappropriate laughter)
Causes of Schizophrenia
No single cause seems to explain all cases of Schizophrenia. Research shows that several factors contribute to the onset of this disease including genetics, abnormal chemical processes in the brain, differences in brain structure as well as physical and social environment. Many studies are being conducted with the hope of discovering more information on this devastating illness.
Diagnosis can be made by a professional who will examine the current and previous symptoms, the course of the illness and family history. Once diagnosed, treatment begins immediately. Although there is no cure for Schizophrenia, effective treatment can help to reduce the severity and frequency of the symptoms. Treatment often includes:
- Antipsychotic or Neuroleptic Medications are the most effective treatment for Schizophrenia by significantly reducing the symptoms
- Therapy can help increase coping skills; identify warning signs; provide individual and family education and support; and help individuals to distinguish between reality and fantasy
- Social or vocational rehabilitation, if needed, can help people to increase their independence by skills training and providing structured activities
- Social support will help reduce stress which can contribute to the severity of symptoms
Importance of Psychiatric Treatment & Follow Up
Psychiatric treatment is important for several reasons, most critically is that individuals with Schizophrenia are at a higher risk of suicide. Many individuals with Schizophrenia do not take their medications for reasons such as denial they have the disease, medication side effects or feeling the symptoms are gone and that they no longer need them. It is important to note, however, that Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness and 40 to 60 percent of individuals will have a relapse within one year if they go untreated. Therapy to recognize warning signs of disease progression will help the individual seek prompt assistance from a psychiatrist.
Contact your county's Community Mental Health to inquire about support groups for individuals as well as families.
Visit your local book store in the Psychology/Mental Health section for self-help and educational books on Schizophrenia.