Mental illnesses have only recently been getting acknowledged around the world. Mental illnesses are conditions that affect the brain and, thereby, your entire body, even if most people aren’t aware of it. There is still some stigma around mental diseases. One such illness is schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia, popularly considered a multiple personality disorder, is, in reality, a chronic condition where the patient cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not at times.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental condition that affects the psyche of a person. This illness affects close to 1% of the population of the world. This illness affects how people think, speak, express, or process their emotions and how they perceive reality itself. A person suffering from this illness can experience delusions, hallucinations, or are affected by other thinking impairments that make it hard for them to function regularly.
People suffering from schizophrenia find it hard to perform daily tasks and feel challenged in school, work, society, and the relationships they form. This is why they tend to be withdrawn from the real world.
This condition is an extremely complex one, which is possibly why there are so many misconceptions about it. People have an image of schizophrenics being violent and homeless or institutionalized. This is not true for all cases, only severe ones. Most schizophrenics live at home with parents or alone and aren’t violent, only distant and withdrawn.
For now, there is no official or specific cure for the disease. Schizophrenics need constant treatment to control and combat this disease. However, experts are studying and researching the illness and mapping the brain structure and functions of those suffering from schizophrenia to come up with more promising schizophrenia treatment and therapy. Early treatment can help to control the symptoms better.
This condition starts to affect people in their late teens or early twenties to thirties. The instance of the first symptoms setting in before full psychosis is called the prodromal period. There is no specific trigger or symptoms in this period, so it can be hard to notice. Some behavioral changes are easier to detect than others:
- Change in productivity levels – early onset of schizophrenia is characterized by low productivity levels. You could notice a difference in their grades or work.
- Social withdrawal – the person doesn’t like or enjoy socializing anymore and prefers staying alone, often in dark or quiet environments.
- Concentration- The person’s concentration capacities go severely low, and they will seem unable to understand or comprehend a lot of things.
- Temper Control- You will notice that the affected person is unable to control their anger and throws occasional temper tantrums.
- Sleep Deprivation- Because schizophrenia tampers with one’s ability to differentiate from reality and imagination, chances of getting any sleep aren’t likely for the one suffering.
When should I See a Doctor?
The early onset symptoms can easily be confused with adolescence. It is tough to spot these symptoms, even by a doctor or psychologist.
Early treatment does, however, give the patient a better chance to control the illness. You should visit the doctor as early as possible if you notice any of these symptoms along with more concerning ones in yourself or someone you love.
If your doctor or psychiatrist suspects you to be prone or at risk, they will prescribe anti-psychotics that could slow or hold off the onset of schizophrenia.
When a patient is actively dealing with schizophrenia, it is marked by many symptoms that affect their cognitive functions along with episodes where the patient is unable to distinguish between reality and unreal experiences. These symptoms can be categorized into 4 types:
1. Positive Symptoms:
With schizophrenics, a positive symptom is not something you want to hear. This includes hallucinations, which involve the person feeling false senses, like hearing voices or seeing figures in the shadows or feeling sensations on your skin and mouth, which aren’t there. Delsions are also a positive symptom, where the person has an unreal belief or notion they refuse to give up on. Catatonia is an extreme symptom where the person stops speaking or stays fixated in one position for long periods.
2. Negative Symptoms:
These symptoms refer to the withdrawal of the schizophrenic from people, their ability to initiate or partake in social activities, their interest in gatherings and events, and their ability to even normally communicate or make small talk. The person is unable to experience emotions or pleasure and remains drab or uninterested.
3. Disorganized Symptoms:
These symptoms are marked by speech impairments, talking nonsense or gibberish, taking unusually long to figure out what the topic of discussion is, moving slowly, being forgetful, and repetitive. The person is confused and unable to make logical decisions and respond typically to situations.
4. Cognitive Symptoms:
This deals with a schizophrenic’s ability to understand, concentrate, and perform. The person might not be able to understand what’s being said, have concentration problems, and simply lose interest in anything. They might have a problem using the information they have managed to absorb and cannot recognize that they have any of these symptoms.
Although it is hard to pin down specific triggers or risk factors of schizophrenia, some factors seem to be linked to the conditions:
- Family history of schizophrenia.
- Complications during birth or while in the uterus, like malnutrition, toxins, or virus that affected the development of the fetus’s brain.
- Taking mind-altering drugs during developing years.
Schizophrenia can affect anyone at any age. Though most cases surface when the person is in their late teens, there are cases of early and late-onset.
Complications arising from schizophrenia
The disease constricts the person’s ability to function normally. The symptoms bring about multiple complications like suicidal tendencies, loss of job and financial stability, loss of social relationships, homelessness, and other conditions like OCD, anxiety, and heart disorders.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no single test or exam to diagnose schizophrenia. Since experts are still trying to determine the cause, multiple tests, and treatment methods are considered. Doctors will consider family history, medical history and suggest blood tests, MRIs, CAT scans, and also notice the patient over some time.
Treatment is also not specific, as there is no cure so far. It may include medication or anti-psychotics, Coordinated Specialty care which combines medication, therapy, and better education and employment opportunities; psychosocial therapy, cognitive meditation, individual or group therapy, or hospitalization for severe cases.
Research is still active in finding a specific cure for schizophrenia. Experts are looking into deep brain stimulation, a treatment that proves useful for Parkinson’s disorder. The procedure, however, is purely experimental so far.
If you know someone exhibiting these symptoms, offer them your support and speak to them about your concerns. Don’t force them into treatment; instead, explain why treatment could mean a more stable life for them and why they need it.