Living With: Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe mental disorder in which a person has a hard time telling the difference between what is real and not real. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 percent of the population suffers from this disorder. The disease can also affect families. Individuals with schizophrenia usually have difficulty keeping a job and caring for themselves. They must rely on family and friends for help. The disease is often misunderstood, but it is treatable, and in many cases, the individual can go on to lead a productive and normal life.
What Are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
People diagnosed with schizophrenia may display a variety of symptoms. These symptoms will often come and go, and in some cases, the individual may learn how to deal with the symptoms, so they are not noticeable. There are three categories of symptoms: positive symptoms, negative symptoms and cognitive symptoms.
Positive symptoms include:
- Hallucinations: A person may see, hear, smell or feel things that are not there. Most individuals who have been diagnosed with this disorder will hear voices. The voices may warn the person about dangers or tell the person to do things. The individual may spend a good deal of time talking to the voices inside their head. There may be several voices talking at one time, and the voices may even talk to one another.
- Delusions: A person with schizophrenia will often have false beliefs about something. The person may think that neighbors are spying on them or someone is out to get them. The individual will spend a large amount of time worrying about what others are thinking and doing to them.
- Thought and movement disorders: An individual with schizophrenia may have a hard time organizing thoughts into anything meaningful. They may stop speaking abruptly or speak in a garbled way. Body movements may become agitated or the person may not move at all. Negative symptoms are often associated with a disruption of normal emotions and behaviors. Individuals will show a lack of interest and pleasure in everyday life. There may be a lack of ability to maintain planned activities, and a person will often not speak when spoken to. A person who shows negative symptoms often needs help with everyday activities, such as personal hygiene. Cognitive symptoms are only found with testing. These types of symptoms include the inability to understand information and trouble focusing and paying attention. A person may also have problems knowing how to use information once they have received it. Cognitive symptoms make it difficult for an individual to lead a normal life without a large amount of emotional distress.
How Is Schizophrenia Treated?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, because there is no exact known cause of schizophrenia, the best method of treatment is to try to eliminate the symptoms of the disease. This usually involves a variety of antipsychotic medications and psychosocial treatments. Medications can include:
Many individuals experience side effects when they first begin taking these medications regularly, which can include dizziness, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, menstrual problems and skin rash. These symptoms usually go away after a few days, so it is important to continue taking the drugs. The symptoms of schizophrenia should also go away a few days after taking the medication. A person may have to try several different prescriptions before finding the one that is right. Medication is normally for the rest of your life. If you have schizophrenia and decide to stop taking your medications, you should see a physician to be weaned off slowly. You should never stop taking the medication suddenly.
Once a patient has been stabilized with medication, psychosocial treatments will begin. These treatments will help the person deal with everyday challenges, such as communicating, work, and relationships. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a patient who undergoes psychosocial treatments is more likely to continue taking their medications, and they are less likely to suffer from relapse or be hospitalized.
How You Can Live with the Illness
If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, the best thing you can do is to take an active role in managing your illness. Learn the warning signs of a relapse, and have a plan of action to deal with those symptoms. The sooner you respond, the less time you will spend recovering. You can also learn coping skills to deal with the worst and most persistent symptoms.
Often drug abuse and schizophrenia go hand in hand. If you have been abusing drugs and alcohol, there are many places that will offer treatment for your drug addiction and the mental illness. You will get better results if you address the two problems together and find treatment for the two problems at the same time.
How Families Can Help
Usually an individual who has been released from treatment for schizophrenia will be released into the hands of family members. If you are caring for a family member with the illness, it is important to know how to handle the illness. A physician may ask family members to talk to a therapist, who will teach family members coping strategies. Family members may also learn how to make sure a loved one knows how to stay on the medication and continue with treatment. Families should have all contact numbers and know where to take the individual for outpatient services and family services.
Self-help groups are available for both individuals with schizophrenia and their families. Your physician can usually point you to the best self-help groups in your area. It often helps to know there are others who are going through the same or similar circumstance. Knowing there are others with the same illness can help make you feel less isolated. You can ask questions and learn what works best for them, and you can even learn new methods to cope with schizophrenia.
For more on the topic of Living with Schizophrenia, we’ve included the following expert consensus documents as reference materials: