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Solving the mystery of Schizophrenia

25 Dec 2015

Have you heard of Schizophrenia? You must have. Fictional books and movies have generated this minimum level of awareness where everyone has heard about it. Some may have difficulty describing it while others may have a distorted description thanks to the creatively expressive world of books and movies but it’s there, schizophrenia, the term has a found its place in our vocabulary.

Let’s look at some general facts about Schizophrenia.

·         Schizophrenia affects more than 1% of the population.

·         The usual age of onset is between 16 and 25.

·         It affects both men and women with similar frequency.

·         It is a chronic, treatable mental illness that affects one’s thoughts, behavior and perceptions of reality.

·         It can be developed through factors such as genetics, brain chemistry, drug abuse and environmental factors.

·         The symptoms of schizophrenia vary between individuals. They may get better or worse with time.

·         Most people with Schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent. They prefer to be left alone.

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Some most common symptoms of Schizophrenia are as follows-

·         Hallucinations – hearing voices talking to oneself, a conversation between other people or others talking about oneself; seeing things that aren’t there

·         Delusions – fixed belief in something that is false

·         Paranoia – baseless suspicion

·         Disorganized thoughts – may not make sense when speaking, skipping from one topic to another

·         Loss of interest or motivation – inability to enjoy daily activities or social interaction


There exist a lot of confusions and myths regarding the disorder of Schizophrenia. One of them includes that those who have schizophrenia know that they have an illness. On the contrary, they may wait months and sometimes even years and suffer needlessly before a diagnosis is made and the treatment begins. They are unaware of what is wrong.


It’s difficult for people to understand the experiences of a person with Schizophrenia. Certain symptoms may seem relatable. For example – a lot of people may have had suspicions regarding their spouse cheating on them but that doesn’t classify them for a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. Although Schizophrenia entails a delusion of infidelity which has a similar experience but the person’s belief in this idea is complete and unshakeable despite evidence to the contrary. This firm belief leads them to act in ways that are way beyond what a person without schizophrenia would indulge in. Further, Schizophrenia isn’t just one of these symptoms, it is an amalgamation of many of these in order to fulfill the diagnosis.



How is Schizophrenia different than the voices of right and wrong that I get

Further, the voices a person with schizophrenia hears are clear and loud like conversing with someone sitting next to them. It isn’t a thought, it’s a voice that tells them what to do or talks to them or comments on their behavior. It is to them a voice of another person and not a thought or something in their head. What a person without schizophrenia may point towards will more likely be a thought or an ‘inner voice’ telling them what best decision they should take. They do not hear it out loud as the voice of another person.


Helping a loved one with Schizophrenia

The first step is to recognize symptoms. In order to recognize if a loved one has schizophrenia, some early warning signs are mentioned below. Many of these are within the range of normal responses to situations but even when they are mild, a loved one may recognize the behavior to be unusual. Noticeable social withdrawal is the most common symptom apart from one or more from the list below.

·         Deterioration of personal hygiene

·         Bizarre behavior

·         Irrational statements

·          Social withdrawal, isolation, and reclusiveness

·          Shift in basic personality

·          Unexpected hostility

·         Deterioration of social relationships

·         Writing without meaning

·         Decline in academic or athletic interests 

·         Drug or alcohol abuse

·         Strange posturing

·         Staring without blinking-or blinking incessantly

·         Peculiar use of words or odd language

The second step is to get proper medical help. People with schizophrenia often resist treatment. They may not think they need help because they believe their delusions or hallucinations are real. Thus, your role as a caregiver becomes primary. Although schizophrenia is a serious chronic disease, treatment is available to help the afflicted get back to thinking clearly and leading a near normal life.  Medication helps restore and maintain normal thought patterns. Further, helping the loved one with medication compliance and being familiar with signs of relapse are essential to the treatment process. Also therapy and rehabilitation helps coping with stressful scenarios and return to independent living and social interaction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on thinking and behavior and helps people with schizophrenia to test the reality of their thoughts and perceptions, how to "not listen" to their voices, and how to manage their symptoms overall. CBT can help reduce the severity of symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.

Psychosocial treatments help them deal with the everyday challenges of the illness, such as difficulty with communication, self-care, work, and forming and keeping relationships. Learning and using coping mechanisms to address these problems allow people with schizophrenia to socialize and attend school and work.

Third step is to help the person set realistic goals and learn to function in the world. This means taking medication and going for follow-up treatment as well as maintaining peace and calm at home. Being positive and supportive at this time would be critical to the person’s recovery. Provide a structured and predictable environment. Telling them when they are doing something right is the best way to help them move forward. Gradually increase their independence and help them learn to cope with stress.


The earlier schizophrenia is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome of the person and the better the recovery. 


"Schizophrenia is a cruel disease. The lives of those affected are often chronicles of constricted experiences, muted emotions, missed opportunities, unfulfilled expectations. It leads to a twilight existence, a twentieth-century underground man... It is in fact the single biggest blemish on the face of contemporary medicine and social services; when the social history of our era is written, the plight of persons with schizophrenia will be recorded as having been a national scandal."
- E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., Surviving Schizophrenia

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