Understanding Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe disturbance in the brain’s functioning that results in unusual behaviour, thoughts or emotions. Anyone can develop it and it usually first appears during late adolescence or early adulthood. Its specific causes are unknown but contributing factors are believed to include genetic predisposition, abnormalities in brain chemistry and stressful environmental conditions. The person who does not receive appropriate treatment may have much more difficulty engaging in work, leisure activities, interpersonal relationships and self-care.

Schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood illness. As a result, people with schizophrenia are often discriminated against. This can greatly decrease their chances of recovery.

Myth: Schizophrenia refers to a “split personality” or multiple personalities.
Fact: Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) is a different and much less common disorder than schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia do not have split personalities. Rather, they find it difficult to tell the difference between what is real and not real.
Myth: Schizophrenia is a rare condition.
Fact: Schizophrenia is not rare; the lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia is widely accepted to be around 1 in 100.
Myth: People with schizophrenia are dangerous.
Fact: Although the delusions and hallucinations of schizophrenia sometimes lead to defensive behaviour, most people with schizophrenia are neither violent nor dangerous to others.
Myth: People with schizophrenia cannot be helped.
Fact: While long-term treatment may be required, the outlook for persons with schizophrenia is hopeful. When the illness is treated early and properly, most people with schizophrenia are able to enjoy life and resume meaningful roles within their families and communities.

  • Hallucinations
    • Things a person sees, hears, smells, or feels that no one else does.
  • Delusions
    • Firmly held false beliefs not shared by others, e.g. believing that other people are reading their minds or conspiring to harm them.
  • Negative symptoms
    • Disruptions to normal emotions and behaviours, e.g. lack of desire to engage in activity or lack of expression and emotion.
  • Disorganised thought and behaviour
    • Unusual speech that is disjointed or incoherent and strange mannerisms.

  • Prodromal phase
    • People with schizophrenia may gradually lose interest in their usual activities and withdraw from social contact. They may also become intensely preoccupied with certain topics or have trouble concentrating, neglecting their appearance and hygiene.
  • Active phase
    • Hallucinations and delusions become prominent and cause significant distress and dysfunction. This phase is often the most frightening to the person with schizophrenia and to others. Inpatient treatment will often be necessary if the symptoms reach a crisis point.
  • Residual phase
    • As treatment takes effect, acute symptoms start to diminish. After an active phase, persons with schizophrenia may become listless, have trouble concentrating and be withdrawn for varying periods. The symptoms in this phase are similar to those outlined in the prodromal phase.

While the term “recovery” means different things to different people, it is now more commonly viewed as a process, rather than an outcome (e.g. permanent elimination of symptoms). In other words, people are in recovery when they are striving to live a meaningful and satisfying life of their choice, in spite of the limitations of the illness.

  • Medication
    • The use of antipsychotic medications aims to eliminate the symptoms of the disease.
  • Psycho-social treatment
    • Psycho-social rehabilitation such as counselling, social and vocational training focuses on empowering and equipping people with schizophrenia to achieve their goals in life.

  • Learn about the disorder and the recovery process
  • Be respectful, encouraging and supportive
  • Keep communication honest and straightforward
  • Encourage the person to seek and sustain professional treatment
  • Revise expectations and set realistic goals
  • Practise good self-care

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” – John Lennon