Feeling lost and afraid, hearing insulting voices, finding it impossible to keep it together: these are common experiences of people living with schizophrenia, a brain disorder that affects roughly 1 in 100 people. The prevalence of this illness means that most people have a family member or friend who is affected. Schizophrenia can be a disabling illness that changes the course of a person’s life. It usually begins in young adults, threatening their independence at a crucial time. However, with treatment and support, people with schizophrenia can lead healthy lives– they can work, have families, and pursue the goals that are important to them. This is why awareness of this illness is so important.
Schizophrenia changes the development of the brain, affecting how people think, how people perceive things, and how they behave. Usually there is a slow, subtle decline in functioning over time, often culminating in an episode of acute illness. The main symptoms of schizophrenia fall into a few domains:
- Delusions are persistent false beliefs that are not shared by other people of the same culture. There are many types of delusions, but the most common are persecutory delusions- beliefs that people are following or plotting against you or that you are in grave danger, when this is not actually the case. People with schizophrenia may also have grandiose delusions, which involve an inflated sense of importance, such as believing that you are on a special mission.
- Hallucinations involve perceiving things that other people don’t, such as hearing voices or seeing people that others don’t see. Often, these experiences are frightening or disturbing.
- Disorganized thought and disorganized behavior affect how people with schizophrenia communicate and how they might care for themselves. Thoughts and ideas can be all jumbled together, making speech difficult to understand. It might be difficult to plan ahead or keep the steps of a complex task in order, leading to difficulties managing finances, or maintaining hygiene, for example.
- “ Negative symptoms”, which refers to an absence of emotion, motivation, or pleasure. People with negative symptoms may sit idle for very long periods of time. This can be actually one of the more disabling features of schizophrenia, as it prevents people affected from taking action to help themselves and pursue recovery.
But recovery from schizophrenia is possible! Mental health professionals are trained to help people with schizophrenia learn how to manage the illness and how to use medication to reduce symptoms. Programs are available to help people with schizophrenia to return to school or work, to find safe housing, to develop meaningful relationships, and to take care of health and wellness. Family and friends can support people with schizophrenia in accessing these treatment programs, and develop community awareness to eliminate the stigma associated with schizophrenia.
The video below further explains schizophrenia.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can provide information and support for people with schizophrenia and their families and friends. www.NAMI.org