Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about schizophrenia (or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.
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Let's start, not by explaining what schizophrenia is, but what it isn't. Despite what you might have heard or believe, schizophrenia is not about having a split or multiple personalities. This misconception isn't helped by the fact that the word 'schizophrenia' comes from two Greek words; schizein meaning 'to split' and phrēn meaning 'mind', but that's just etymology for you! It really refers to a disruption to the balance between emotion and thought.
It is also a myth that schizophrenics are particularly violent people. If violence does occur, it is usually as a consequence of drugs or alcohol abuse and not a symptom of the condition itself. You don't need to be schizophrenic to be violent due to drugs or drink; just go into any busy town or city centre on a Saturday night to see that.
Schizophrenia isn't a character flaw, nor does it mean anyone with the condition can't lead full, productive lives. So, if it's not those things (and it's not), what is it?
Schizophrenia is a chronic, long-term mental illness that affects how you think which, consequently, can alter the way you manage your day-to-day life. It is often described as a 'psychotic illness', which admittedly doesn't sound great, but it just describes someone who may not be able to tell the difference between their thoughts and reality.
Around 1 in every 100 people will be diagnosed with it at some point in their life and it usually starts to develop in the early stages of adulthood, where it is known as the 'prodromal phase'. This is the stage at which the condition really begins to affect your sleep patterns, your emotions, how you communicate and even the ability to think clearly.
There are different types of schizophrenia (just add the word 'schizophrenia' after each of the words below);
- Paranoid; Most people with this type will display relatively 'normal' cognitive function, but the condition is characterised by auditory hallucinations and they will have delusions about being conspired against or being persecuted in some way. Hence the name.
- Disorganised; Affecting the thought processes for day-to-day activities including hygiene. Their speech will also become disorganised and occasionally nonsensical. They can also display emotions at the wrong or at inappropriate times.
- Catatonic; This primarily affects the movement of the person, either by stopping them from moving or making them move much more. They might also begin to hold odd poses and mimic the movements of those close by.
- Undifferentiated; If someone displays some of those mentioned above without fitting the criteria exactly, then they may be diagnosed with this type of schizophrenia.
- Residual; Describes the condition when they don't exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia any longer (or the symptoms are not as severe).
When a schizophrenic becomes unwell, this is known as an 'acute episode' where they will feel angry, depressed and panicked. As you can imagine, the first one will be incredibly scary, especially if you're not expecting it or know enough to be prepared for it.
There will be certain things that can trigger these episodes so it is important to understand what they are and how to avoid them where possible.
Stress plays a big part in triggering these episodes. Whilst it doesn't cause schizophrenia, stress from losing your job, bereavement, ending a relationship or physical, sexual or emotional abuse can trigger it.
Depending where you are in the world, the criteria for a mental illness like schizophrenia will be documented in various manuals, usually produced by the World Health Organisation (known as ICD-10) or the excitingly sounding Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (or DSM-5) produced by the American Psychiatric Association.
The symptoms of schizophrenia can be divided into 3 types; positive, negative and cognitive. Now that doesn't mean some are good and others are bad.
Positive symptoms are those that should NOT be present and can include:
- Hallucinations whereby someone can hear, see, smell and even feel things that aren't there including voices.
- Delusions, e.g. the belief that the world, in some way, is different than it really is. Depending on type of schizophrenia you have, the delusion may take different forms. For example, you may believe someone is following you, your thought are being heard aloud or that the TV is sending you messages (and we don't mean advertising!).
Negative symptoms are those that SHOULD be present. It's worth noting that negative ones are often harder to recognise because they can be quite subtle but include:
- Absence of emotion or showing emotion at inappropriate times.
- Lack of motivation or enthusiasm including personal hygiene.
Cognitive ones, as their name suggests, are the ones associated with thinking. They include:
- Confused speech takes makes little sense.
- Inability to remember or process information.
Who on Earth knows! No-one to any definitive degree, that's for sure. Like most mental illness, there simply isn't one single cause. Most people who are diagnosed with it develop schizophrenia between the ages of 15 and 35 and men and women tend to be affectedly more or less equally.
Schizophrenia isn't a condition that you can diagnose with a blood test or a brain scan. It's not even something your Doctor can deduce. It needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist and only after the patient has undergone a thorough psychiatric assessment. Sounds like fun doesn't it!
Most experts believe schizophrenia is caused by a complex mixture of genetics, brain chemistry and the environment you are born into. Schizophrenia typically runs in the family, but that's not 100% the case. There isn't one 'schizophrenia' gene that causes it, but evidence suggests a particular combination of genetic factors might make you more likely to develop it. Not much you can do about that though.
Some believe a difference in brain chemistry is a cause. Also, traumatic events during childhood can play a part. Finally, if your mother had complications whilst pregnant with you, they could also impact on how your brain developed making you susceptible to it. Again, completely out of your control.
Whilst we may not be able to say what causes it, there are things you do that increase the risk of developing it. Studies have shown that children under the age of 15 that use cannabis (including the more potent forms of it) are 4x more likely to develop it by the time they're 26.
As we said at the beginning, it's simply incorrect to think that schizophrenics are incapable of leading productive lives. That's still just as true.
In fact, the condition can be managed quite successfully with a combination of psychotherapy and medication (typical and atypical antipsychotics), although finding the right one for you can take a few attempts, as is often the case with many other mental illnesses.
If you live with schizophrenia, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.