Often, the only time people see someone with schizophrenia is on a television show or in a movie. Schizophrenics are often portrayed as an incurable patient or a suspect in a criminal case. Although television shows like these can raise awareness of the mental illness, they rarely shed light on what living with the disease is really like.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines schizophrenia as a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. A person with schizophrenia may have trouble distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. At times, they might be unresponsive or withdrawn and may have difficulty expressing normal emotions.
Other signs and symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders, reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life, difficulty beginning and sustaining activities, and trouble focusing or paying attention. To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person must have two or more of these symptoms occurring persistently.
There are many misconceptions about schizophrenia. Sometimes it’s portrayed as a multiple personality disorder, but Mental Health America points out that schizophrenia is not a split personality or multiple personalities. Also, the vast majority of people with schizophrenia are not violent and do not pose a danger to others. Although the cause of schizophrenia is unclear, studies show that it isn’t caused by childhood experiences, poor parenting, or lack of willpower.
Some theories about the cause of this disease include genetics, an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry, and/or possible viral infections and immune disorders. Scientists recognize that the disorder tends to run in families.
According to Medical News Daily, a diagnosis of schizophrenia is made after observing the actions of the patient. Certain tests (bloodwork, imaging studies, and a psychological evaluation) will be ordered to rule out other illnesses and conditions that may trigger schizophrenia-like symptoms.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that with medication, psychosocial rehabilitation, and family support, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be reduced. It’s important that people with schizophrenia get treatment as soon as possible, because early detection can reduce the severity of symptoms.
If a family member or friend is living with schizophrenia, the best thing to do is learn all you can about the disease. Living with schizophrenia is challenging, and it’s hard to understand what the sufferer is experiencing. By taking the time to educate yourself, you are in a better position to support your loved one.