Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness and patients experience progressive personality changes and a breakdown in their relationships with the outside world. They have disorganized and abnormal thinking, behavior and language and become emotionally unresponsive or withdrawn.
People who suffer from schizophrenia may have a very broad range of symptoms which can cause great distress to themselves and their families. These symptoms can take many forms including:
- ‘Positive symptoms’ (abnormal experiences), such as hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling something that isn’t actually there), delusions (false and usually strange beliefs) and paranoia (unrealistic fear)
- ‘Negative symptoms’ (absence of normal behavior), such as emotional withdrawal, and lack of motivation and enjoyment
- Cognitive dysfunction (problems with concentration, learning abilities and memory)
How do you get Schizophrenia?
The lifetime risk of someone suffering from schizophrenia is about 1%, and most people first experience symptoms between the ages of 15 and 35 years.
The cause of schizophrenia is not known, but it is thought to involve many different factors:
- It may be partly hereditary; in other words the genes that we inherit might be partly to blame
- The other causes of the illness remain unknown, although it is thought that schizophrenia sufferers may have some parts of the brain that have not developed in exactly the normal way
- Some believe that something that happens in the womb might cause schizophrenia many years later
- Possibly there is an imbalance in the chemicals that the brain uses to send messages from one cell to another
An attack can be brought on by stress, although this is not the cause of schizophrenia
How serious is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness but it is not true that people who have schizophrenia are very dangerous – this is rarely the case.
How long does Schizophrenia last?
Although schizophrenia is treatable, relapses are common and the illness may never fully resolve.
How is Schizophrenia treated?
The outlook for sufferers has improved greatly in the last few decades and many people can be treated outside hospital and live within the community for most of their lives.
When someone is first diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, they are usually treated in hospital, but many people can then have treatment at home, particularly if they have a supportive family.
Treatment includes counselling, social support and rehabilitation.
In addition anti-psychotic medicines are available to treat the worst symptoms of the illness, such as hallucinations, but there is no “cure” at present.
The older standard (‘Typical’) anti-psychotic drugs, though effective, are associated with a range of distressing side-effects which can result in constant twitching/fidgeting, writhing and disjointed movements. However, newer (‘Atypical’) anti-psychotic drugs are designed to offer control of symptoms and less of these disabling side-effects.
In addition to medical treatment, support from family, friends and healthcare services is also a vital part of therapy.