Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that is often misunderstood. A common misconception is that schizophrenia means “split personality” and that schizophrenic people are naturally dangerous. However, it is very unlikely for people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia to commit violent acts. In fact, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence or other crimes than be the actual perpetrators themselves.
Schizophrenia tends to be first diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood and can be triggered by substance misuse or stressful life events. It is thought to have a genetic component, with people who have a close family member with the diagnosis or other mental health diagnoses to be more likely diagnosed with the illness. Experts also believe that there is a deficit of neurotransmitter dopamine in those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Symptoms of schizophrenia are many and varied with some symptoms being common to other disorders, some not being present and some that are. These symptoms tend to be classed as “positive” or “negative” depending on the following characteristics:
- Not present in other people who do not have the diagnosis
- Often called “psychoses” or “psychotic symptoms”
- Include auditory, visual/olfactory hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder and confusion
- Indicate a deficit in comparison to other people
- Include social withdrawal, lack of motivation, lack of emotion, poverty of speech (limited verbal communication) and finding difficulty putting emotions or thoughts into words
- Often seen as less responsive to medication treatment and can be associated with poorer long-term outcomes
Medication tends to be a first line treatment for schizophrenia. Often called antipsychotics or neuroleptics, schizophrenia medications are also known as major tranquilizers. They serve to make the more troubling symptoms of schizophrenia more manageable, although they do not eradicate the symptoms or “cure” the condition. Many of the drug treatments for schizophrenia have side effects that can be unpleasant, such as the tendency to gain weight, involuntary muscle movements, dry-mouth and sexual dysfunction, to name a few.
Therapy is another treatment option and can take many forms—from talking treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to occupational therapy to even arts and creative therapies. These methods tend to assist a person in coping with their symptoms and learning to live a meaningful life with the diagnosis. Arts and creative therapies can especially help a person express his or her thoughts and feelings that they may otherwise find difficulty putting into words.
Social support is also a vital feature of recovery. People with schizophrenia can become very isolated and are subject to high levels of stigma. This is where family and friends can make an important contribution to a person’s recovery by offering their ongoing support, understanding and friendship. Groups where sufferers who have similar experiences join together can make a huge difference for people with schizophrenia, helping them realize that they are not alone in their condition and that there are others who understand what they are going through.
In the past, someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia may have been written off, deemed as incurably mad or assumed to be unable to lead a “normal” life. However, attitudes and treatments have progressed in recent years. Ideas of recovery have developed into learning how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life—and this means understanding and managing symptoms so they no longer appear frightening and out of control.
Provided the correct treatment, it is possible to live a rewarding and functional life today with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. If you or someone you know is seeking help, please visit our directory of mental health resources or call 800-891-8171 to start the path to recovery today.