What Is Schizophrenia?

As you may or may not know, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I feel obligated to make a Mental Health Awareness post.

However, I feel like on this blog, I have spoken about depression and anxiety quite a bit already, educating and informing and even sharing my own experiences and others. Overall, mental health isn’t really talked about as much as it should. Depression and anxiety, two very common disorders, aren’t even talked about enough so imagine other disorders, which aren’t as common. Such as Schizophrenia.

(I’m going to litter this post with a bunch of art done by people with schizophrenia because I think it’s really interesting and beautiful)

 

At the beginning of this year, I learnt about Schizophrenia as a whole topic in my Psychology A Level. Before we first started being educated about it as part of our course, many people in my class were led on by some misconceptions, which I will clear up now since they are very common misconceptions.

  • Schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder (it can change qualities about a person’s persoanlity but it doesn’t cause a split personality).
  • It’s not necessarily a violent mental illness (a small amount of people with schizophrenia can be dangerous, the same way a small amount of people with depression or no mental illness at all can be).
  • People with schizophrenia need to be hospitalised (they do not and I will go more into this as the post progresses).

 

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is considered a mental illness, consisting of positive symptoms (an excess or distortion of normal functions) and negative symptoms (a loss of normal functions), which is why schizophrenia is so hard to diagnose and classify. Disorders like depression consist of mainly negative symptoms like poor hygiene or loss of pleasure for hobbies, rather than both positive and negative so can be easier to diagnose.

Here are just a few schizophrenia symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Thought disorder
  • Avolition
  • Speech poverty
  • Slow movement
  • Poor hygiene
  • Changes in emotions and body language

There are actually many many more symptoms of schizophrenia, which can also be symptoms belonging to other disorders. Avolition and poor hygiene, for example, are also symptoms of depression. Hallucinations and changes in emotions are also symptoms of bipolar disorder. People with schizophrenia also tend to possess other disorders too; a study showed that 50% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have depression, 29% have PTSD and 23% have OCD. This makes classifying and diagnosing schizophrenia difficult, which can be really dangerous for the person as they may get inappropriate and/or ineffective treatment.

 

Some Interesting Facts!

  • It affects about 1-2% of people (% may be higher depending on if you are related to someone with schizophrenia).
  • Suicide is a severe risk in those suffering with schizophrenia.
  • The risk of schizophrenia is the same amongst all genders, countries and cultures, however some cultures and genders may be diagnosed more due to racism, sexism and ignorant perspectives.
  • It is most likely to affect people ages 16-30, especially if there is a big change in that individual’s life.
  • You can recover from schizophrenia but it’s the chance of this is not that high.

 

What Causes Schizophrenia?

The cause for schizophrenia is a hard one to pinpoint, as it is for most mental disorders. Schizophrenia is also aetiologically heterogenous, which is just a fancy word for ‘different combinations of factors leads to it’. I’m only going to explain a few factors today.

  • Genetic: Some people may have genetic variations associated with increased risk for schizophrenia, usually coding for dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter.
  • Dopamine: The brain may produce abnormally high amounts of dopamine and/or there’s too many dopamine (D2) receptors in dopamine synapses.
  • Ventricular Enlargement: Some people may have an enlargement of their brain cavities, which may be a result from the season of birth effect. People born during winter months may be more vulnerable to this, supposedly, as medication taken by pregnant women, who have viral infections, can cause foetal brains to be damaged.
  • Expressed Emotion: The disorder may result from being in a family characterised by hostility, critism, over-involvement and over-concern.
  • Schizophrenogenic Mother: A result of living with a cold, rejecting, controlling mother, who creates tension and secrecy, leading to distrust and paranoia. (This theory is a little sexist and outdated).
  • Dysfunctional Thought Processing: Metarepresentation, the ability to reflect on your thoughts and behaviour and have insight into your own intentions and goals, may be impaired. Central Control, the ability to suppress automatic responses while you focus on something else instead, may also be impaired. (This sounds, to me, more like the result of having Schizophrenia than the cause)
  • Childhood Trauma: Events in the person’s childhood can lead to the development of schizophrenia later on.

 

There are many treatments as a result of these different explanations such as drug treatments to tackle the dopamine problems, therapy treatments to target family issues and own personal issues. Token economy is also used within institutions for severe cases. These treatments are much better than what was once used a while ago. Schizophrenia is feared and rejected from society, even now, but a while back, it was considered this terrible thing and was treated maliciously. People were cut to allow them to ‘bleed out’ the disorder. Some people were kept in cages, some were rotated. Lobotomy was used, as well as electrocution. It was pretty grim. Although treatment is 100 times better now than the olden days, it still isn’t perfect.

 

Scientists and doctors view schziphrenia as an “illness” that needs to be “cured”. However, there is a big difference between what the scientists/doctors’ explanations and the actual sufferers’ experiences. A more humanistic approach looks through the eye of the sufferer and focuses on the human capacity to overcome hardship and pain by sharing experiences rather than just taking drugs and being hospitalised. And yes, the drugs may help the biology aspect of the disorder but taking drugs and being talked about as a crazy person, who is ill, can cause the person with schizophrenia to internalise the stigma put on them. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and actually make their schizophrenia worse. It can also lead to suicide as they may feel like a burden.

It doesn’t help that there is a Western emphasis on taking drugs for literally anything mildly wrong. An internet survey found more than 1/2 of schizophrenia websites are funded by drug companies so there’s already a bias towards taking drugs. Drugs may not be the best option, for most people. A Dutch man, Hans, said to his schizophrenia support group that the voices he was hearing started to become nasty and mean. The support group told him to demand the voice for respect in return for respect to the voice and the voice actually became nicer and easier to live with. Therefore, a possibly better option for people with schizophrenia is to stop looking at them as ill people and instead as people going through a different experience to most people, helping them to adapt their lives to live and cope with their schizophrenia rather than trying to get rid of the disorder. In fact, there was a study that found out of some post-mortem examinations, only the patients, who received anti-psychotic drugs, had increased levels of dopamine and/or resistance to drugs.

I personally think that a mixture of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes/adaptations and support from people around the person suffering, is the best treatment. However, this can be quite demanding for the person suffering.

 

Prevention And Coping Advice:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Eat healthily.
  • Practise relaxation techniques.
  • Look to friends, family and others for social support.
  • Don’t do drugs, kids.

 

Schizophrenia is a rare disorder but should still be made aware of. You shouldn’t be scared by people with schizophrenia and empathise with their situation rather than fear it. The crazy man talking to himself on the bus may just be responding to voices he is hearing – it’s not harmful. People with schizophrenia are just like you but are just dealing with different experiences, which can be very tragic (some lose jobs, relationships and even lives). It is a complicated disorder, in which treatments, causes and the way we view it are all up for debate but at the end of the day, it’s another mental illness, seen as a taboo, which it should not be.

Spread your awareness for schizophrenia!

 

-Shay

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