Schizophrenia, much like all other forms of mental illness, is often a taboo subject. Yet, in Canada, one in every one hundred people battle with schizophrenia at some point in their life. To put those numbers in perspective, this means that more people suffer from schizophrenia than Alzheimer's disease or type-1 diabetes!
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder, meaning it causes one to lose touch with reality. Those affected can no longer make the distinction between what is imagined and what is real. The illness typically appears towards the end of adolescence or in the 20s.
There are several types of schizophrenia and each is classified according to the most prevalent symptoms:
This type of schizophrenia is the one most commonly associated with the illness. It is characterized by psychotic episodes and attacks during which time schizophrenics suffer from hallucinations, particularly tormenting auditory hallucinations and delusions whereby they believe that people want to control or destroy them. Paranoia sets in.
Hebephrenic schizophrenia (disorganized)
This type of schizophrenia is characterized by an inability to think clearly. Speech is incoherent and can become impossible to understand. Behaviour is often strange. There is a significant loss of will.
Negation of the outside world, stereotyped movements, physical immobility and excessive movements are only some of the signs associated with catatonic schizophrenia. A person with this type of schizophrenia may also mimic the words or gestures of those around him.
It is not known what causes schizophrenia. There are several theories, including genetic factors, but its effect is relatively insignificant. Certain environmental factors such as stress have also been suggested. And lastly, substance abuse of drugs such as LSD or marijuana could, without being the direct cause, prompt the illness in persons whose neurotransmitters are somewhat fragile.
Symptoms are divided into two categories: positive and negative. Positive symptoms refer to traits or behaviours that are "added" to one's personality while negative symptoms are capabilities or aspect of one's personality that are lost" to the illness.
Identifying the symptoms of schizophrenia may be difficult. In fact, withdrawal and behavioural changes are also indicative of adolescent behaviour. Making the distinction between the normal maturation process towards adulthood and this mental illness is not always easy. This is further complicated by the fact that symptoms generally appear gradually. However, if the person in question seems to be losing touch with reality, gradually withdraws from his or her social circle and if behaviour and attitude remain bizarre over time, seeking medical help may be wise.
The first step generally consists of consulting with a general practitioner who will conduct tests to make sure that the problem is not physical. From there, the person will be referred to a specialist. Psychiatrists are best suited to diagnose and treat schizophrenia.
Early diagnosis and treatment can be decisive. They significantly increase one's chances for partial or total recovery.
Treating schizophrenia is done on several levels. Firstly, we try to control the symptoms with medication, most often antipsychotic drugs. Because each person reacts differently, an adjustment period is required. It is important for the psychiatrist to follow-up on patients as the body may develop a "tolerance" to certain medications, rendering them ineffective. Drug combinations are often used for this reason.
Secondly, it is important to make sure that the person in question understands what is happening in order to be able to manage the problem. Psychotherapy is highly recommended as it provides schizophrenics with the tools needed to cope with the illness.
And lastly, family therapy is often a determining factor in the equation. Schizophrenia does not only affect the schizophrenic and, as a result, the family circle must adapt and learn to live with their reality. That being said, group therapy may prove very beneficial for everyone.
Relapses are common. It is therefore important to respect the prescribed treatment. With good treatment, regular monitoring and follow-ups, those with schizophrenia can often lead a normal life.
For more information or for support :
Schizophrenia Society of Canada
Canadian Mental Health Association
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.