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Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that makes it hard for someone to know what is real and what isn’t. People with schizophrenia experience delusions (belief in something that isn’t true) and/or hallucinations (sensing something that isn’t really there). In addition to delusions and hallucinations, people with schizophrenia might have other problems, including lack of speech, lack of motivation, hard-to-understand speech, and strange behaviour. Many people with schizophrenia lack insight into their illness, so they may not realize that anything is wrong. To them, their behaviour seems perfectly reasonable, but to everyone else, something is clearly very wrong.
Are there different types of schizophrenia?
There are a number of different sub-types of schizophrenia, depending on which symptoms are strongest. Although a common misconception, people with schizophrenia do not have “split personalities.” Other misconceptions are that people with schizophrenia are usually homeless or can’t live on their own without assistance.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
Symptoms of schizophrenia are broadly classified into two categories: positive and negative symptoms. Not everyone experiences all symptoms.
An excess or distortion of normal behaviour (including when the brain is not able to distinguish between real and not real).
Hallucinations: A hallucination is when the person senses something that isn’t actually there. The most common are auditory hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices) but people can also see, feel, smell, or taste something that isn’t actually there.
Delusions: Delusions are when the person has unrealistic, mistaken beliefs that are not age-appropriate (e.g., tooth fairy) or culturally-expected (e.g., belief in ghosts or in a higher power). For example, they may think everyone on TV is talking just to them or they may think aliens are spying on them through their phone.
Disorganized Thought & Self-Monitoring: The way the person speaks or acts may not make much sense or may be hard to follow. They may behave inappropriately for the situation.
A loss or decrease of normal thoughts, feelings, or behaviour.
They may appear completely blank, with limited emotions, speech, reactions, motivations, and sometimes even no movement (called catatonia).
They may withdraw completely from friends and family.
They may have poor personal hygiene.
Other Common Symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Change in personality
- Inability to concentrate
- Schizophrenia affects about 1% of the Canadian population.
- Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed when the patient is in their late teens or early twenties for men and late twenties or early thirties for women.
- Schizophrenia is treatable.
- Children who have two parents with schizophrenia have a 50% chance of developing schizophrenia.
How is Schizophrenia treated?
EARLY INTERVENTION IS IMPORTANT.
Often people do not seek help when the first signs of psychosis emerge. Why? People with schizophrenia often don’t realize that they are acting or thinking strangely. You may need to step in and suggest they see a doctor. The longer an individual waits to get treatment, the more problems they will have. Getting help early minimizes the risk of disruption in daily life and helps lead to a successful recovery.
WHAT DOES TREATMENT INVOLVE?
Treatment will vary for each person but will generally include the following:
Medications called antipsychotics are used to treat positive symptoms of schizophrenia. Medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers are also sometimes used alongside antipsychotic medications. Keep in mind, medications don’t work immediately and it may take a while to find the one that works best.
Psychotherapy can help to improve the social impairments of patients and provide some context and support for friends and family. Some treatments used in psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - CBT helps people learn to problem solve and change their negative thoughts and behaviours into more positive ones.
- Family-focused Therapy - This therapy helps family members understand the illness and learn coping strategies.
- Psychoeducation - This treatment is often done in a group and is helpful in enhancing people’s understanding of the disorder.
- Interpersonal Therapy - Helps the person deal with social and relationship problems, and teaches the person how to establish strong social support.
- Hospitalization - Sometimes if the person’s symptoms are severe and are endangering themselves or someone else, a doctor will admit him or her to the hospital for treatment.
What can friends and family do?
If someone you know shows any of the signs of schizophrenia, it is important they seek help. The first contact should be their family doctor; he or she will be able to conduct an initial assessment and refer them to a specialist. Having a loved one with psychosis is not going to be easy, there will be setbacks. Try to be patient, positive, and never give up hope. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Educate yourself as much as possible about the mental illness to fully understand what is going on.
- Be supportive; but do not support delusions and do not support stopping of medications without doctor’s consent.
- Be open-minded and listen.
- Limit stress and keep a calm environment.
- Set limits about acceptable behaviour and be consistent.
- Put yourself first.
- Do not neglect other family and friends. Seek family assistance if needed.
- Help maintain and encourage treatment.