What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that generally appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. Characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and other cognitive difficulties, schizophrenia can often be a life-long struggle. As with most mental disorders, the causes of schizophrenia are poorly understood. Friends and family commonly are shocked, afraid or angry when they learn of the diagnosis. People often imagine a person with psychosis as being more violent or out-of-control than a person who has another kind of serious mental illness. But these kinds of prejudices and misperceptions can be readily corrected.
The onset of Schizophrenia
The onset of schizophrenia in most people is a gradual deterioration that occurs in early adulthood — usually in a person’s early 20s. Loved ones and friends may spot early warning signs long before the primary symptoms of schizophrenia occur. During this initial pre-onset phase, a person may seem without goals in their life, becoming increasingly eccentric and unmotivated. They may isolate themselves and remove themselves from family situations and friends. They may stop engaging in other activities that they also used to enjoy, such as hobbies or volunteering.
What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is characterized by at least 2 of the following symptoms, for at least one month:
- Disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence)
- Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
Only one of the above symptoms is required to make the diagnosis of schizophrenia if the person’s delusions are bizarre or if the hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person’s behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other.
A schizophrenia diagnosis is reached by observing the actions of the patient. If the doctor suspects possible schizophrenia, they will need to know about the patient's medical and psychiatric history.
Certain tests will be ordered to rule out other illnesses and conditions that may trigger schizophrenia-like symptoms. Examples of some of the tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Imaging studies - to rule out tumors and problems in the structure of the brain
- Psychological evaluation - a specialist will assess the patient's mental state by asking about thoughts, moods, hallucinations, suicidal traits, violent tendencies or potential for violence, as well as observing their demeanor and appearance.
Treatments for Schizophrenia
Psychiatrists say the most effective treatment for schizophrenia patients is usually a combination of medication, psychological counseling, and self-help resources. Anti-psychosis drugs have transformed schizophrenia treatment. Thanks to them, the majority of patients are able to live in the community, rather than stay in hospital. The primary schizophrenia treatment is medication. Sadly, compliance (following the medication regimen) is a major problem. People with schizophrenia often come off their medication for long periods during their lives, at huge personal costs to themselves and often to those around them. The patient must continue taking medication even when symptoms are gone, otherwise they will come back.
The first time a person experiences schizophrenia symptoms, it can be very unpleasant. They may take a long time to recover, and that recovery can be a lonely experience. It is crucial that a schizophrenia sufferer receives the full support of their family, friends, and community services when onset appears for the first time.