Schizophrenia affects 21 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It affects people from all races and social classes all over the world. One out of two sufferers does not receive appropriate treatment or care for the condition.
Schizophrenia is a serious and complex mental disorder, and can significantly disrupt the way a person feels, thinks and reacts to his or her surroundings.
Although it is not possible to cure schizophrenia, with early treatment and monitoring it is possible to enjoy a productive life.
Symptoms of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder and the underlying cause is not fully understood. It has been thought to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals but later research has highlighted possible links to epigenetic switching of genes in utero and focusing on experiences of trauma and loss in childhood. Symptoms usually develop gradually, although they may appear suddenly. Friends and relatives are often the first to address them.
- Disorganized behaviour
- The absence of expressions or emotions
- Concentration problems
- An abbreviated speech devoid of details
- Difficulties in planning to achieve goals
- Memory problems
- Confusion in timelines of events
- Difficulty in holding a conversation
- Repetitive movements (back and forth)
- Risky and foolish behaviour.
Those affected may become depressed or suffer mood swings (bipolar disorder). Those affected also have an increased risk of suicide.
The causes of schizophrenia
The causes of schizophrenia are still unknown although it appears to result from a combination of genetics and living factors. The risk of developing schizophrenia is higher in cases where a family member has the condtion.
Who is affected?
This condition equally affects men and women. The first symptoms tend to develop in men between 16 and 25 and in women between 16 and 35 years
Are people with schizophrenia violent?
The majority of schizophrenia sufferers are not violent. Instead, they are more within themselves and prefer to stay alone. Substance abuse, paranoia and psychotic symptoms may increase violent behaviour.
The treatment of schizophrenia
Early treatment is crucial to control schizophrenia, and increases the chance of a complete or near-complete recovery.
Effective treatments are now available, whether antipsychotics, psychotherapy, training focuses on skills, family support and education. To prevent relapse, it is important to follow the prescribed treatment and receive adequate psychosocial support.
Even if we can not cure schizophrenia, people can and do recover. Recovery can mean learning to reduce the incidence of problems, meet challenges and maintain well-being. Most people combine certain treatments and support services.
Some people need to be admitted to hospital if they are in a serious episode of psychosis. This is the time to determine the best treatment for them and start the path to health. Before leaving the hospital, health care providers should help determine the service providers (doctors, counsellors, social workers) to participate in the health care treatment and support the patients recovery.
Medicines known as anti-psychotics can help reduce the severity of symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, and remove these symptoms for many people. Continuing to use medication after the patient feels better may help to reduce the risk of relapse. There are many types of anti-psycotic and it can take time and patience to find the one that suits each individual best.
Counselling and support
Counselling can help alleviate many problems, including those concerning depression, anxiety and relationships.
There are also therapies to help reduce the incidence of delirium and hallucinations. Schizophrenia can affect personal goals for study, work and independent living. Professional help (occupational therapists, or social workers) can help in relation to daily life, social skills training related to employment or volunteer work and community activities.
Relapse prevention plays an important role in the management of schizophrenia. Once the patient learns what might trigger an episode and recognizes the warning signs of an episode, relapse prevention comes into play.
Small steps such as eating well, exercising regularly, developing healthy sleep habits, spending time in enjoyable activities, spirituality and contact with friends and relatives can make a big difference.
Schizophrenia can give people the feeling of being very isolated and very lonely. Sometimes many people with schizophrenia feel uncomfortable in the presence of others or worry about what others will think of them. Good relationships can foster support and healing.
If you would like further information on bipolar disorder then please contact the following:
Details of local Minds and other local services, and Mind’s Legal Advice Line.
Helpline: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm)