Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness, and is probably the most distressing and disabling of the severe mental disorders.
The first signs of schizophrenia typically emerge in adolescence or young adulthood. People with schizophrenia suffer from difficulties in their thought processes, which lead to hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, and unusual speech or behaviour. Contrary to popular belief, people with schizophrenia do not have 'split personalities', and the great majority of people who suffer from schizophrenia are not dangerous to others.
What causes schizophrenia?
There is no known single cause of schizophrenia. We do not yet understand all of the factors necessary to produce schizophrenia, but experts do agree that the disease is due to abnormalities of brain function. Many of the symptoms of schizophrenia have been linked to abnormalities in the transfer and processing of information within the brain, and with particular neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin).
Research on families indicates that vulnerability to schizophrenia is inherited. A child whose parent has schizophrenia has about a 10% chance of developing the illness. There is other evidence that environmental influences may have effects on the brain which increase the chance of developing the disease. It is likely that a combination of risk factors is important.
What are possible symptoms of schizophrenia?
People with schizophrenia may have perceptions of reality that are extremely different from that shared by others. They often suffer terrifying symptoms such as hearing internal voices, or believing that other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. Living in a world distorted by hallucinations and delusions, people with schizophrenia may feel frightened, anxious, and confused. Their speech and behaviour can become so disorganised that they may be incomprehensible or frightening to others. Partly because of the unusual realities they experience, people with schizophrenia may behave very differently at various times.
People with schizophrenia usually experience two types of symptoms.
These are psychological features "added" as a result of the disorder, but not normally seen in healthy people such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganised thinking and agitation.
|(2)|| "Negative" symptoms
These are psychological capabilities, which most people possess, but which people with schizophrenia have lost such as lack of drive, or initiative, social withdrawal, apathy (not caring about anything) and emotional unresponsiveness ('blunting').
The sudden onset of severe psychotic symptoms is referred to as an acute psychotic episode. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia may be less obvious than the positive symptoms, and may precede, occur along with, or may follow the positive psychotic symptoms. During a psychotic episode, people with schizophrenia cannot think logically, and may lose all sense of who they are.
People with schizophrenia have a higher rate of suicide than the general population. Approximately 10% of people with schizophrenia (especially younger adult males) commit suicide.
Can schizophrenia be treated?
There are a number of different 'conventional' antipsychotic medicines that seem to work mainly by reducing the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. They are mainly useful for treating the positive symptoms of schizophrenia. However, they are not always very effective against the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, or mood symptoms (affective symptoms). In addition, some patients may respond poorly or not at all to these medicines. Conventional antipsychotics have a number of unpleasant side effects, and patients may have to take additional medicines to combat these. The side effects may contribute to patients not taking their medication (non-compliance), which can lead to relapse of schizophrenia symptoms.
A number of new 'atypical' antipsychotic medications for schizophrenia with fewer and less severe side effects than older medications have been introduced in the past decade. The atypical antipsychotic medicines appear to block the effects of both serotonin and dopamine, and as a result they seem to have effects on a broader range of symptoms. They are effective in the treatment of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, and may also be helpful for treating the negative symptoms of the disease.
The large majority of people with schizophrenia show substantial improvement when treated with antipsychotic medicines.
Many people with schizophrenia or mental illness and their carers benefit from joining a support group.
For more information see your Doctor or Healthcare Professional.TOP