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Schizophrenia - The Most Misunderstood Illness!

Updated on February 3, 2011

When I walked into my son’s flat, it suddenly dawned on me that he will never return to it. My beautiful, beautiful son! I am here to pack all his belongings and move it into storage, not knowing when he will be able to use his computer again or listen to his music centre. He loves listening to music; even have the radio on while sleeping. He was so exited when he moved into his own flat nearly a year ago, but he is now back at the institution for an indefinite time after a relapse. You see, he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia 10 years ago , only 2 days before his 21st Birthday. We all thought he was managing his condition well with the medicine and because it has been his dream to have his own flat someday, we allowed him to live on his own.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding of schizophrenia by the general public. Some would distance themselves from such a person for fear of being victimised or fear of the unknown.

But what is Schizophrenia and what causes it?

Schizophrenia is NOT a "split personality."

Schizophrenia is NOT caused by bad parenting.

Schizophrenia is NOT caused by personal weakness.

Schizophrenia is probably the most distressing and disabling mental disorder. There are a number of theories about the cause of this disease. Research has not determined if one or all of these theories could be the cause of the disease.

Genetics: It has been scientifically recognised that the disorder tends to run in families and that a person inherits a tendency to develop the disease. It could be triggered by viral infections or highly stressful situations or a combination of both. Schizophrenia appears when the body undergoes hormonal and physical changes, e.g. changes during puberty in the teen and young adult years, similar to other genetically-related illnesses.

Chemistry: Genetics help to determine how the brain uses certain chemicals. People with Schizophrenia have a chemical imbalance. They are either very sensitive to or produce too much of a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine allows nerve cells in the brain to send messages to each other. The imbalance of this chemical affects the way a person’s brain reacts to anything that trigger a physical or behavioural change which explains why such a person may be overwhelmed by sensory information i.e. loud music or bright lights. This problem in processing different sounds, sights, smells and tastes can also lead to hallucinations or delusions.

Different Types of Schizophrenia

Paranoid schizophrenia: A person feels extremely suspicious, persecuted, high-minded, or experiences a combination of these emotions.

Disorganized schizophrenia: A person is often irrational and confused but may not have delusions.

Catatonic schizophrenia: A person is withdrawn, quiet, negative and often adopt very unusual postures.

Residual schizophrenia: A person is no longer delusional or hallucinating, but has no motivation or interest in life. These symptoms can be the most devastating.


Symptoms of Schizophrenia  

Symptoms may develop slowly over months or years, or may appear very abruptly.  Stress, poor health, illicit drug abuse or alcohol abuse can worsen or contribute to the onset of schizophrenia.  Initial symptoms, which usually appear gradually, may include mild feelings of tension, inability to sleep or concentrate, or loss of interest in school, work and friends.   Most individuals will experience more disabling and bizarre symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations or disordered speech and thoughts as the disease aggravates.  Schizophrenia may appear in cycles known as relapse or remission. During times of relapse, the person suffering from schizophrenia may experience one or all of the following symptoms:

Delusions:  False ideas – e.g. may believe that someone is spying on him or her or that they are someone famous.

Hallucinations:  Imaginary voices which give commands or comments to the individual but it is less common for the person to think he or she sees, feels, tastes, or smells something which really does not exist.

Disordered Thinking:  Moving from one topic to another but not making any sense.  They might even make up their own words or sounds.

During periods of remission, psychotic symptoms may lessen, but other symptoms like social withdrawal, inappropriate emotions and extreme lack of interest, may persist.

Substance misuse  

This is a common concern for relatives. Some people who take drugs show symptoms that are very similar to schizophrenia symptoms. Often people with schizophrenia are mistaken for drug addicts. Moreover, people with schizophrenia often misuse alcohol and/or drugs and may react really badly to certain drugs. Substance abuse can also reduce the effectiveness of treatment.   Stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine or drugs such as PCP or marijuana, can cause serious problems and make symptoms worse. Substance misuse also reduces the likelihood that patients will stick to the treatment plans recommended by their doctors.

The most common form of substance misuse seen in people with schizophrenia is nicotine dependence as a result of smoking. People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to smoke than the general population. However, the relationship between smoking and schizophrenia is complex and smoking tends to interfere with the patient's response to medication. This means that a patient who smokes may need to take a higher dose of anti-psychotic medication.


Treatment and ‘Recovery’

There are no chemical tests for schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a lifelong illness although many can live productive and meaningful lives.  Most people with this illness will probably take medication for the rest of their lives as do patients with diabetes or high blood pressure. 

Antipsychotic medications help to normalize the biochemical imbalances that cause schizophrenia. They are also important in reducing the likelihood of relapse. Like all medications, antipsychotic drugs should be taken only under close supervision of a psychiatric nurse practitioner, psychiatrist or other physician.

Despite the availability of new medication with less severe and fewer side effects, only one person in five 'recovers' from the illness, and one in ten people with schizophrenia commits suicide.

Nutritional and natural approaches– Research centres have been pioneering the approach of nutrients and nature to treat and manage symptoms of schizophrenia with a significant degree of success.  These approaches are slowly finding their way into American mental health.  Naturopathic medicine is intensively involved and aware of these approaches. These approaches are based on intensive examination and treatment of biochemical impact as well as consequences that are associated with schizophrenia.  A number of remarkable discoveries have been made demonstrating that for some people, symptoms can be effectively eliminated or managed as well or better without antipsychotic medications.

Counselling and Psychotherapy- Counselling and support are effective means to reduce stress, help manage symptoms and prevent relapse.  Some forms of psychotherapy can be very helpful.  Other forms can actually destabilize a patient. 

People with schizophrenia often have difficulty in performing ordinary life skills such as cooking, personal grooming as well as communicating with others in the family and at work.   Isolation, loneliness and withdrawal are significant problems.  Rehabilitation can help a person regain the confidence to take care of themselves and live a fuller life.  Different forms of "talk" therapy, both individual and group, can help both the patient and family members to better understand the illness and share their coping problems.

Steps You Can Take To Help

  • Contact a qualified mental health professional for purposes of evaluation, treatment  and support.
  • Recognize that the quality of care, treatment and support varies dramatically among communities.
  • Recognize that several trials of medication may be necessary before the correct medication, dosage and medication to manage side effects can be established.
  • If medications are essential, help the patient stay on the medication.
  • Nutrition, proper sleep, exercise, stress management and maintaining social involvement are crucial.  Keep the lines of communication open about problems or fears the patient may have.
  • Understand that caring for the patient can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Take time for yourself and seek assistance from professionals to help you better understand and deal with the disease.
  • Keep your communications straight forward and brief when speaking with someone who is schizophrenic.
  • Always remember that schizophrenic people can be intelligent and they can have excellent memories.
  • Don't talk to people who are schizophrenic as if they are hard of hearing or deaf.
  • Do not argue with a person who has unusual or bizarre beliefs.
  • Ask for help if you need it; join a support group or seek out a professional counsellor who can help.

In my search to help my child coping with this distressing illness, I asked him if he would mind me asking him questions to try to figure out what his life was like and what he sometimes was experiencing. To my surprise he sounded relieved and said that he did not mind at all as other people were treating him as it was a forbidden subject. Here is just some of his thoughts and experiences:-

“Its weird waking up and not really know where I am or who is around me. I would see things that is not really there and hear voices of people I cannot see”

I am living in a world of madness which no one can understand, not even me. It is a world that is deranged, empty, and no reality. I feel so alone with this craziness, but it is better and easier living in such a world than to try and cope with reality.”

“I hear voices telling me to do certain things. Sometimes they say demonic things like sell your soul. I would sit for hours listening to what I think are demons. Some days it feel as if there is a demon following me around waiting for me to sell my soul.”

“I am now helping the Police to catch the drug dealers and is a member of the special unit and have an agent number. The other day my life was in danger as one of the drug dealers were following me but I managed to get away.”

When I think of my son and all the hopes and dreams I had for his future I get sad, but I have learned to cope with this situation. I just keep on praying for his well-being and that God would save his soul.


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    • profile image

      Gorav Gupta 

      4 years ago

      The article is very informative and sums up schizophrenia in brief.

      Schizophrenia is the most misunderstood disease. With limited awareness and not readily available Psychiatric help or due to ignorance or denial patients often reach an unmanageable and dysfunctional state. It should be the job of government,media and non governmental organizations to spread the right message and reach as many people as possible.

    • Penny G profile image

      Penny Godfirnon 

      4 years ago from Southern Iowa

      Dear God, I cried as I read this so familiar sad story. You see my son has this too. He now thinks I am not his Mother, he has gone to prison over his Mental health behaviors, had a total breakdown, has tried to commit suicide, and thinks he has killed 60,000 people and is going to kill me when he gets out. Thank you for sharing this sometimes I feel all alone as a parent of a Schizophrenic Children You see I have two adult children with this horrible condition.

    • PowercutIN profile image

      Arun Kumar Acharya 

      4 years ago from Varanasi, India

      Misunderstood? I think it is not understood at all. Not in India, at least. Mom had to end her life with schizophrenia. I am coping with it since 1994 - under adverse conditions where I had to care for both mom and myself. After all these years, people around think all that anger and frustration on inability to complete things on time is my nature. It gets even harder when there is no support around. Am on my own. Probably, God is looking over. And I am unable to tell doctors what I feel as they keep on interrupting and I lose focus.

      But I've watched mom having episodes and that serve as guidelines to keep myself as sane as possible. BTW, did not know smoking proves to be a hurdle. I will try to quit and see.

      Thanks for sharing the above.

    • leabeth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      tinamarie9884 - Thank you for your kind words and prayers. God bless.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Leabeth, My heart and prayers goes out to you, your son, and all family. I worked in the medical field, I am aware of Schizophrenia and yes, there are some people who are misguided or they do not understand. You did an excellent job writing information about it. Again, myself with my prayers are standing with you every step of the way.

    • leabeth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      JY3502 - I am glad that this hub presented you with awareness. I am sure there are a lot of other conditions that we are not even aware of. Have a look at the hubs of Dr irum.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      This hub presented me with information I was not aware of. I was one who thought it was a split personality. And me...with some med training and background. Thanks for writing this. Good hub.

    • leabeth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Dr irum - thanks for visiting my hub. I have visited your profile and have seen quite a few of your hubs that I would definitely read. There are so many medical issues that one wants to know more about.

    • leabeth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      martiecoetser - As always, your words of comfort warms my heart. Thanks for sharing this hub with your friends. The more people know the real facts about schizophrenia, the easier it would be for people suffering from this illness and be accepted by the general public.

    • leabeth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      kashmir56 - I am glad that you found it interesting and informative. I tried to keep the information as simple as possible so that the normal man in the street would have a better idea of this illness. I know there are many websites on this issue but some of them is so full of medical terms which makes it difficult to understand.

    • leabeth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Sarah Masson thanks for visiting my hub and your comment.

    • Dr irum profile image

      Dr irum 

      7 years ago

      Good information .

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi leabeth thank you for sharing this interesting and informative hub, i hope your son will one day very soon be able to be back on his own I will keep you both in my prayers and thoughts .

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Leabeth, this is an extremely well-written and informative hub about Schizophrenia, the most misunderstood mental illness. Your motherly love, insight and desire to understand the dilemma of your child, and to support him in all ways is so clearly and heart-touching visible in this writing of yours.

      It is clear that you as well as your son are in control of this illness and that it does not control you.

      I’m praying with you for his well-being, and please, never cherish the thought that his ‘soul is lost’ because he is suffering an earthy illness PEOPLE associate with evil. God is not the narrow-minded being with human-like thoughts and actions most people believe he is, but a Power beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Where you son is now - undergoing treatment - he is safe and sound in the hands of God whose spirit IS IN people who KNOW what they are doing... and in particularly in you, the loving mother who takes care of her son’s earthy possessions. To me this sad situation firmly under control is a clear indicator that neither your son’s body nor his soul is lost!

      (Sorry, Leandra, but I cannot bear this archaic thoughts and words of Christians. I can clearly see the ill and the healthy – in fact all that is breathing and not even ‘breathing’ but existing in this amazing and awesome universe – as part of a plan/picture/reality which is much too big for mortal humans to understand in all its widths and depths.)

      My prayers will always be with you, your son and your loved-ones involved in your personal strives to live and love this wonderful life granted to us. I’m sharing this hub with all my friends. Take care, dear friend. You are so special and your son is soooo fortunate to have a mother like you. Hugs and peace from me to you.

    • Sarah Masson profile image


      7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Very interesting, thanks for the information :)


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