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Schizophrenia: What You Need to Know

Schizophrenia 101: Letters to Strangers

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which people are affected by frequent hallucinations and other mental factors. Roughly between 0.25% to 0.64% of people in the United States are affected by the illness (NIMH). Those with schizophrenia face many difficult symptoms and, just like the public, are subject to various misconceptions about their disease. Despite all of this, most continue to lead perfectly healthy and normal lives. Symptoms usually manifest between the ages of 16 to 30, but can be manifest in children as well.

Symptoms may include (NIMH):

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusions

  • Thought disorders

  • Movement disorders

  • Reduced facial expressions or voice tone

  • Reduced feelings of pleasure or happiness

  • Difficulty completing activities due to lack of motivation

  • Reduced communication

  • Poor information analysis skills

  • Poor decision-making skills

  • Memory application struggles

  • Problems with the usage of memories to make decisions

These symptoms can be manifest in varying degrees amongst different patients. As the disorder matures and progresses, it can take various forms, even different ones from what the person previously experienced. Their behavior could be completely normal and rational one moment and unpredictable the next, but this is not always the case.

The brain faces various changes due to the onset of schizophrenia. Neurosurgeons report seeing a 25% reduction in gray matter, or the areas of the brain that are a pinkish-grey color containing axons, dendrites and form the majority of the brain (Healthy Place, Schizophrenia) as well as enlarged lateral brain ventricles. Patients with the severest forms of schizophrenia had also lost the most brain matter. However, many of these tests are not definite and do not necessarily represent schizophrenic tendencies accurately in terms of brain matter.

In terms of social perception, schizophrenia is one of the most negatively stigmatized mental illnesses in the world. There are thousands of common misconceptions about schizophrenia due to popular culture that is based on the actions of a few people who had schizophrenia. Various myths and misconceptions about schizophrenia still persist due to this portrayal as well as a lack of proper education on the disorder. For example, many believe that schizophrenics are always normal one moment and completely different the next. Sometimes, this is the case, but it is dangerous to assume that it its always the norm. There are often various signs that the illness is going to take root or that a schizophrenic episode is about to happen, and seeking professional help can help one prepare for these moments.

In addition, there are various other misconceptions, such as:

Schizophrenics have multiple personalities

  • This is not true: it is possible for them to have multiple personalities, but it is not guaranteed. Voices in their heads and hallucinations are sometimes confused for “multiple personalities” as well. The multiple personalities may come from Dissociative Identity Disorder (known in the past as Multiple Personality Disorder), which is a completely different mental illness.

Schizophrenia makes people dangerous

  • This is one of the most common stereotypes that persist with those with schizophrenia. According to the American Psychological Association, only 23% of the crimes committed by people with schizophrenia were related to their symptoms

Schizophrenia makes people unable to function in society

  • This myth is blatantly untrue: with the right amount of treatment, individuals with schizophrenia can lead healthy and productive lives

With treatment and medication, schizophrenics can hold successful jobs and will otherwise function normally or as they would without the illness.

Schizophrenia has various forms of treatments that physicians may provide, but all of them are lifelong. There is currently no cure for the illness, although we are able to ensure for many that schizophrenic episodes rarely happen. Physicians will generally rule out all other causes before going to schizophrenia, because the treatment is expensive and lasts for life. However, if diagnosed, they would recommend antipsychotic drugs such as Abilify, Saphris, Rexulti, Vraylar, Clozaril, etc. These would be taken alone or in different combinations. Doctors may also suggest social skills training in which schizophrenics can develop social interaction skills, and individual therapy, which would attempt to normalize thought patterns within the patient and help manage their stress. Art therapy, through introducing self-reflection and the human connection (like we do with our programs at Letters to Strangers), can also play a critical role in healing. Though rare, in the past, psychiatrists have recommended electroconvulsive therapy when medication failed. This involves minor electrical shocks to the brain while the patient is under anesthesia. Many studies have been conducted on the efficacy and ethics behind ECV, but for the purpose of our introduction to schizophrenia, we will leave those details for a later discussion.

Coping with schizophrenia can be very stressful, and it puts an enormous strain on family members and friends. However, it is necessary to keep sight of your goals and work to ensure that your loved one is diagnosed as quickly as possible so that their treatment can begin. It is also necessary to educate yourself about the illness and its symptoms. There are various informational websites that one can go to in order to find more detailed information on schizophrenia. One can - and should, whenever possible - also consult psychiatrists and their family doctors about the disorder.

Millions are suffering from schizophrenia every day, and almost all of them live otherwise normal lives. There are roughly 1.5 million people who suffer from the illness in the United States alone. Therefore, it is important to know that people all over the world are going through the same thing. They are facing the same daunting obstacles to overcome schizophrenia. You are not alone when facing schizophrenia. There are hundreds of people you can talk to and lots of actions you can take towards finding some relief from the disease. There is hope.

Despite there being tremendous advances in science, there is still no cure for schizophrenia. It is a disorder that can only be managed or controlled, similar to cancer. However, do not be disheartened! There has been great progress in the quality of antipsychotic drugs that are used to treat different mental illnesses. They show a lot of potential for treating patients with the illness. The current treatment is also an enormous improvement from previous methods, which ranged from exorcisms (!) to bloodletting to permanent mental asylum residencies. We have come a long way when treating mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia. It is entirely possible that a cure might be available sometime in the future.

Schizophrenia is not a debilitating disease. However, it is a problem, and it cannot go away with the help of a few self-prescribed drugs and short sessions with the psychiatrist. It needs to be fought with constant care and nourishment and the willingness to transform vulnerability into strength, Therefore, it is important that all aspects of a patient’s life are full of support and encouragement. This can help speed up the healing process and ensure that those suffering from the illness have a greater chance of recovery.

Schizophrenia may sound or seem like a scary disorder, but there is tremendous hope. Fight on!


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