May 24 is Schizophrenia Awareness Day, for those of you who don’t know. I’ve had some experience with mental illness in my family and know how difficult it is to diagnose them. It seems only fitting that I take the time to share some of what I’ve learned from books and medical experts so others may better recognize and understand this terrible, incurable affliction.
What is schizophrenia?
Understanding the disease is the key to understanding it. Official research statements say schizophrenia is a severe chronic brain disorder; about 1-percent of Americans has it. In form, scientists have discovered flaws in the neurological makeup of the brain, with nerve clusters forming incorrectly, resulting in parts of the brain communicating in ways that are detrimental to the persons psyche. In some patients, the very structure of the brain looks different, with some cavities being larger, others too small, and other warped, which gives further evidence to theories of how schizophrenia is caused.
Causes of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia can be cause by equal parts genetics and environment. Scientists have known for years that schizophrenia runs in families. However, new research indicates that environmental factors can cause specific genes to malfunction during the developing years and result in permanent damage later on. There is also some indication that a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors are necessary to cause the disorder to surface.
Types of schizophrenia
Contrary to popular belief, there’s more than one type of schizophrenia, each with their own problems unique to each class of the disease. The most commonly known is Paranoid Schizophrenia, but others exist.
- Paranoid: characterized by delusions and auditory hallucinations, but otherwise normal intellect and emotions. Patients exhibit anger, anxiety, argumentative behavior and aloofness.
- Disorganized: speech and behavior disorganized or difficult to understand accompanied by inappropriate emotions. Patients often laugh for no apparent reason, make illogical statements, or preoccupied with their own thoughts, showing absent-mindedness or ADD-like symptoms.
- Undifferentiated: some symptoms seen in all above schizophrenia types, but not enough to define it, making it hard to diagnose and treat.
- Residual: requires a past history of at least one schizophrenic episode, but without any current positive symptoms (delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, odd behavior). Can go into remission or reoccur periodically.
Symptoms of schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia are not always apparent or even displayed. A person can go for years without showing any outward signs of being ill, while in others the illness can cause bizarre behavior and outright aggression. In some cases a person will learn to live with the symptoms and never show any signs at all. But there are still telltale signs even the most careful individuals cannot disguise. Such as:
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of appetite or hygiene
- Delusions or Hallucinations
- Disorganized Speech
- Feeling of outside control or persecution
There is no known cure for schizophrenia. Fortunately, there are many treatments and doctors are continuously developing more effective ways to combat the disorder. Antipsychotic drugs like Thorazine, Haldol and Prolixin are available, as will atypical antipsychotics like Risperdal, Zyprexa, Invega, Abilify, and Seroquel. They come with side effects like blurred vision, drowsiness, rigidity, muscle spasms, tremors, that sort of thing. A physician should be consulted before taking anything.
If not medications, there are other ways of managing the condition. Some people practice psychosocial treatments, learning to cope with the disease and work around it through education, illness management, and self-discipline. Also, there are many outreach programs to help those with schizophrenia function better in their communities.
Unfortunately, the very worst cases will eventually, if not immediately, require hospitalization due to increasingly erratic behavior. On the bright side, some patients, like famed Mathematician and Economist John Nash, recover on their own after many years and the disease slips into permanent remission.
Even if you don’t have schizophrenia or know anyone who does, it’s always good to have a general knowledge of a disease so when you do encounter people with the disorder you can be better prepared to handle the situation. Many schizophrenics are shunned by society because they are so different from normal people, but most people don’t realize that with help, understanding, and compassion, they can lead very normal, very productive lives.