Schizophrenia - The Most Misunderstood Illness!
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.
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.