Mental illness is a serious issue and one that most people don’t know enough about. We obviously can’t discuss every different dysfunction here, but we can do our best to educate our readers on at least one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses: Schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and mood. That being said, Schizophrenia is also treatable and those who find themselves in the grip of the disease can recover. To find that path to recovery, however, we first need to discuss Schizophrenia itself.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that can cause mental delusions, unusual behaviors, and in many cases, hallucinations. Those who suffer from the illness might experience problems with memory and concentration. They might seem different, more distant at times. Of course, the outward signs are not the ones most folks notice at first.
Statistically, about one in every 100 Americans are diagnosed with schizophrenia. The diseases has a genetic component as well, and those who have a parent or sibling with schizophrenia have an increased risk of developing it, though the odds are low. So is schizophrenia genetic? Well, the answer to that is a bit complicated…
No One Gene
At this point, scientists aren’t certain that a single gene is responsible for schizophrenia. The commonly held belief is that a variety of genes and a number of environmental factors cause the disease. The illness usually presents itself in a person’s teens or early 20s and is unlikely to show itself in older people.
When It Strikes
As stated above, the disease usually affects those between ages 16 and 30, and men are more likely to develop symptoms earlier than women. Once the symptoms begin, they worsen gradually over time. This is known as the prodrome phase. If symptoms are left to continually worsen over time without treatment, irrevocable damage can occur.
Schizophrenia differs for everyone and may affect you differently than it would affect someone else. No matter what though, it always creates certain distinct changes in how people think, feels, and act. The symptoms can come and go and one or more of them may be present or in combination at the same time.
One of the most worrying things about schizophrenia is the fact that the people who have the condition don’t usually know they have it at all, at least until a doctor tells them. They might not even realize something is wrong and might mistakenly believe their tiredness and inability to focus is due to stress or depression.
Because of the many symptoms associated with Schizophrenia, doctors have sorted them into two categories. The first of these symptoms, known as “positive” symptoms, are nothing like their name implies. These symptoms, when most severe, prevent the afflicted person from being able to tell what’s real and what isn’t.
The most commonly-known symptom of Schizophrenia is hallucination. People with the illness may see, hear, smell, or even feel things that no one else does. They might hear voices speaking to them in their heads, teasing them, warning them of nonexistent danger, or in some cases, direct their actions.
Many paranoid sufferers might believe that a clandestine group, such as the FBI or a foreign power, is trying to control their thoughts. If the hallucinations persist unabated, the person might lose touch with reality and could come to believe that they are either living in an augmented reality or even possess superpowers.
Hallucinations aren’t the only worrying “positive” symptom, either. Those who suffer from schizophrenia will often be confused by things around them or have a hard time organizing their thoughts properly. This is often caused as a direct result of their fraying connection with reality and can show itself by way of confused speech patterns or distant looks.
Though they are losing touch with reality, the person affected with schizophrenia will notice that they have a lot of trouble concentrating. They might lose track of their train of thought or be unable to follow a television program. They might also find it hard to focus on more than one task, even something as simple as remembering a phone number.
Another positive symptom of schizophrenia is a noticeable change in physical movement. Some people with the illness might appear to be jumpy or make repetitive, twitchy movements over and over again. There are also times when someone with the disease will become catatonic or remain perfectly still for hours at a time.
There are also a number of “negative” symptoms that might indicate that someone has schizophrenia. Someone afflicted might lose interest in things they used to enjoy or become unable to even do them anymore. One of the most common examples of this is a marked disinterest in hygiene or personal grooming habits.
Difficult To See
Despite how obvious they seem on the surface, these types of symptoms can be hard to spot. This is especially true in teens, who are already prone to emotional swings. Teenagers can go from ridiculously happy to outright depressed in the blink of an eye. These emotional changes are also a sure sign of depression as well, so it’s difficult to tell what might be causing them.
Depression is an equally difficult mental illness to spot, made even more difficult to diagnose by the fact that someone with schizophrenia might exhibit the exact same symptoms. A person with schizophrenia might not talk much and might seem “lost in their own head.” When they do talk, they might seem almost emotionless or show what is known as a flat affect.
People suffering from schizophrenia will also seem to withdraw more and more from their friends and family. They might become like a hermit and not wish to talk to others if they can help it. This might also be due to the voices in their head telling them to remain alone or warning them that everyone is out to get them.
Historically, those who suffered from schizophrenia might have never known they had it before the disease took its toll on their sanity and social life. In recent years, though, more and more people are recovering from schizophrenia. In fact, an initial psychotic episode might be the key to overcoming the disease.
These days, treating schizophrenia usually involves a two-pronged approach: one part medication therapy and one part psychotherapy. It isn’t an easy process of course, but it can minimize symptoms and even keep them away long enough for the severity of the illness to wane over time.
Medication And Psychotherapy
Antipsychotic medications are often very important in the treatment of schizophrenia and these medications should be taken daily in order for them to be effective. Medication must be bolstered by psychotherapy, however. Psychologists are useful in helping schizophrenics deal with the difficult, often sanity-warping symptoms of the disease.
With continued therapy, the affected can face their mental illness and work through the mental and physical symptoms to come back to a sense of normalcy. Thankfully, most people who suffer from schizophrenia find that symptoms do improve naturally as they age and that they require less and less therapy as a result.