Education

What Is Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population. When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation. However, with treatment, most symptoms of schizophrenia will greatly improve and the likelihood of a recurrence can be diminished.

While there is no cure for schizophrenia, research is leading to innovative and safer treatments. Experts also are unraveling the causes of the disease by studying genetics, conducting behavioral research, and using advanced imaging to look at the brain’s structure and function. These approaches hold the promise of new, and more effective therapies.

The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misconceptions about the disease. Schizophrenia does not mean split personality or multiple-personality. Most people with schizophrenia are not any more dangerous or violent than people in the general population. While limited mental health resources in the community may lead to homelessness and frequent hospitalizations, it is a misconception that people with schizophrenia end up homeless or living in hospitals. Most people with schizophrenia live with their family, in group homes or on their own.

Research has shown that schizophrenia affects men and women fairly equally but may have an earlier onset in males. Rates are similar around the world. People with schizophrenia are more likely to die younger than the general population, largely because of high rates of co-occurring medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Symptoms

When the disease is active, it can be characterized by episodes in which the person is unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. As with any illness, the severity, duration and frequency of symptoms can vary; however, in persons with schizophrenia, the incidence of severe psychotic symptoms often decreases as the person becomes older. Not taking medications as prescribed, the use of alcohol or illicit drugs, and stressful situations tend to increase symptoms. Symptoms fall into three major categories:

Positive symptoms: (those abnormally present) Hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things that do not exist, paranoia and exaggerated or distorted perceptions, beliefs and behaviors.

Negative symptoms: (those abnormally absent) A loss or a decrease in the ability to initiate plans, speak, express emotion or find pleasure.

Disorganized symptoms: Confused and disordered thinking and speech, trouble with logical thinking and sometimes bizarre behavior or abnormal movements.

Cognition is another area of functioning that is affected in schizophrenia leading to problems with attention, concentration and memory, and to declining educational performance.

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually first appear in early adulthood and must persist for at least six months for a diagnosis to be made. Men often experience initial symptoms in their late teens or early 20s while women tend to show first signs of the illness in their 20s and early 30s. More subtle signs may be present earlier, including troubled relationships, poor school performance and reduced motivation.

Before a diagnosis can be made, however, a psychiatrist should conduct a thorough medical examination to rule out substance misuse or other neurological or medical illnesses whose symptoms mimic schizophrenia.

Risk Factors

Researchers believe that a number of genetic and environmental factors contribute to causation, and life stressors may play a role in the start of symptoms and their course. Since multiple factors may contribute, scientists cannot yet be specific about the exact cause in each individual case.

Rehabilitation and Living With Schizophrenia

Treatment can help many people with schizophrenia lead highly productive and rewarding lives. As with other chronic illnesses, some patients do extremely well while others continue to be symptomatic and need support and assistance.

After the symptoms of schizophrenia are controlled, various types of therapy can continue to help people manage the illness and improve their lives. Therapy and psychosocial supports can help people learn social skills, cope with stress, identify early warning signs of relapse and prolong periods of remission. Because schizophrenia typically strikes in early adulthood, individuals with the disorder often benefit from rehabilitation to help develop life-management skills, complete vocational or educational training, and hold a job. For example, supported-employment programs have been found to help people with schizophrenia obtain self-sufficiency. These programs provide people with severe mental illness competitive jobs in the community.

For many people living with schizophrenia family support is particularly important to their health and well-being. It is also essential for families to be informed and supported themselves. Organizations such as the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA), Mental Health America (MHA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offer resources and support to individuals with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses and their families (see Additional Resources).

Optimism is important and patients, family members and mental health professionals need to be mindful that many patients have a favorable course of illness, that challenges can often be addressed, and that patients have many personal strengths that must be recognized and supported.

References…

www.psychiatry.org. ( What Is Schizophrenia?)

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