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Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a misunderstood and stigmatized illness. When someone is suffering from a psychotic episode as the result of their Schizophrenia, their normal thought processes are disrupted. This may give people the misperception that the person with Schizophrenia has multiple personalities, which is not the case. The schizophrenic mind is not split but shattered.[1]

There is also a misconception that people with Schizophrenia are violent, when in fact, they are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the instigator.[2] That’s why it’s so important for patients diagnosed with Schizophrenia to seek proper medical care and support.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic, complex brain disorder.[3] It affects how someone thinks, feels and behaves.[4] People with Schizophrenia experience episodes of psychosis. This means that they may hallucinate (see or hear things that aren’t there); have delusions (believe things that aren’t real); and struggle with disordered thoughts, feelings, and motivation.[2]

If Schizophrenia is not treated, it can become worse to the point where it becomes entirely disabling[4] with significant repercussions on someone’s education or career.[5] It even increases mortality.[3] Effective treatments exist, and yet, more than 69% of people with Schizophrenia are not receiving the appropriate care.[5]

What are the symptoms of Schizophrenia?

While each person with schizophrenia may have different symptoms,[6] generally, they can be grouped into four categories:[3]

  • Positive symptoms: these don’t occur in healthy people, but are the result of the disease, and represent a change in behaviour or thoughts. For example: hearing voices, incoherent speech.[3]
  • Negative symptoms: this means that certain qualities are diminished or missing in people with the disease. For example: losing interest and motivation in life and daily activities, not being able to make plans, feel emotion, express oneself, or initiate a conversation.[2]
  • Affective symptoms: these include depressed mood, anxiety, loss of sleep and appetite, even thoughts of death or suicide.[3]
  • Cognitive symptoms: these affect attention, concentration, and memory. For example: not recognizing people, or not being able to follow conversations, learn new things or remember appointments.[4]

How common is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia affects more than 24 million people worldwide,[2] 3.7 million in Europe.[3] It is typically diagnosed in men when they are in their late teens to mid-twenties, and in women when they are in their mid-twenties to early thirties.[4]

Genetic factors can contribute to the risk of developing Schizophrenia, as can certain environmental factors, such as poverty, stressful surroundings, or having been exposed to viruses or nutritional problems before birth.[4]

The impact of this disease on someone’s life is enormous. People with Schizophrenia are more likely to be homeless, 2.4x more likely to die early[3] --often because they do not seek medical help for preventable and treatable physical diseases and infections[5]-- and are ten times more likely to commit suicide.[3]

Treatment and Care

It is still not clear what causes Schizophrenia, but we know that it is treatable with medicine and psychosocial support, ideally a combination.[3] The earlier someone is treated for Schizophrenia, the more effective the treatment will be,[2] and the more likely they are to succeed in school and at work, achieve independent lives, and enjoy personal relationships.[4]

Antipsychotic medications help reduce the intensity and frequency of psychotic symptoms.[2] While some drugs can have persistent side effects, it is important not to suddenly stop taking the medication without consulting your doctor, as it can cause symptoms to worsen.[4]

Psychological therapies can help reduce symptoms, and prevent relapse and hospitalization. Especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)[4] helps people cope with everyday activities and pursue personal goals,[4] giving them a chance at a normal life.

Caring for someone with Schizophrenia

As Schizophrenia is often misunderstood, programs to educate and support family, friends and partners are extremely important. Caring for someone with Schizophrenia is very challenging, especially when you don’t know what is happening, or how to respond to someone who is experiencing psychosis.[7]

When loved ones better recognize the psychotic symptoms, know what treatment options might be available, and understand that recovery is a lifelong commitment, they will be better able to effectively assist the person with Schizophrenia.[4] Awareness of the disease can lessen distress, bolster empowerment, and strengthen the capacity to cope – for both patients and caregivers.

Schizophrenia Carers booklet

What to ask your doctor?

The list below includes example questions to help start a conversation with your health care provider. There may be other relevant questions based on your symptoms, stage, and medical history that are not listed here.

  • Have you treated other people with Schizophrenia? If not, do you know of another doctor who does?
  • Why have you prescribed this particular medication or more than one antipsychotic for me?
  • What are the risks of this drug? Are there side effects? Is it addictive?
  • Can I stop taking this medication if I don't like it?
  • What can I do to prevent a relapse?
  • How will I know if I am relapsing? What would the symptoms be?
  • What kind of therapy do you offer and what is it trying to achieve?
  • Can I live a normal life, have a family, hold a job?
  • What should I tell friends, family, and co-workers about my condition?
  • What resources or support groups are there for me and my family to help us cope?
  • ...
Schizophrenia Patient booklet

Glossary

  • Syndrome: a number of related disorders with similar symptoms but different causes.
  • Psychosis: episodes in which a person is unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences.
  • Antipsychotic medications: the main class of drugs used to treat people with schizophrenia. Also used to treat people with psychosis.[8]
  • Neurotransmitters: chemicals that are used for communication in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin.
  • Psychological therapies: talking therapies or counselling.
  • Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC): recovery-oriented treatment programs for people with first episode psychosis, an early stage of schizophrenia. It combines psychotherapy, medication management, case management, employment and education support, and family education and support.[9]
  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT): reduces hospitalizations and homelessness among people with schizophrenia by a combination of multidisciplinary team, a shared caseload, a high frequency of patient contact, and low patient to staff ratios.[9]
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