A person at your work place keeps acting in a bizarre way. He tells you that people are conspiring against him and he hears voices from angels who are warning him against the possible attack from aliens. He looks terrified and stops coming to work. This behavior is an indication of a mental condition known as Schizophrenia.
The word Schizophrenia was coined around 100 years ago by the well known German Psychiatrist, Paul Eugen Bleuler. The meaning of the Greek word schizophrenia is ‘split mind’. Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness in which the person has abnormal thinking, delusions or false beliefs, and hallucinations, that is, to perceive imaginary visions, smells, tastes and sensations. The schizophrenic is disconnected from the reality of the world. The people suffering from this condition eventually lose their ability to take care of themselves.
The exact cause of Schizophrenia is not known. Researchers say that it could be due to a combination of environment and genetic factors. It is also suggested that changes in chemical neurotransmitters in brain which help in carrying messages from one nerve cell to the other, like glutamate and dopamine may lead to Schizophrenia. Environmental factors that trigger schizophrenia are premature birth, viral infections during infancy, separation or loss of parents and sexual or physical abuse in childhood.
When normal behavior of healthy people is not present in the patient then those symptoms are called as negative schizophrenia symptoms, while abnormal behaviors present in the patient are referred to as positive symptoms.
Positive symptoms that a person suffering from schizophrenia may have include:
Negative symptoms may include:
For diagnosing schizophrenia, the doctor conducts a complete physical examination and tests like complete blood count, drug and alcohol screening and MRI or CT scan to rule out any underlying disease. The mental health provider will conduct psychological analysis of the patient. The patient’s behavior, appearance and mental condition are studied. The criteria for diagnoses the doctor looks out for is, at least two symptoms of schizophrenia, inability of the patient to continue with normal daily activities and duration of symptoms for more than 6 months. A new blood test known as ‘veriPsych’ has been developed by the Cambridge university research center which helps in early diagnosis of Schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia needs lifelong treatment. The treatment of schizophrenia is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.Medication
To control the symptoms, antipsychotic drugs that act on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are used.
All the medications have to be taken under doctor’s prescription and supervision.Pyschosocial treatment
Apart from medication, psychosocial treatment is very important. This treatment includes family therapy that involves educating families about schizophrenia; social skill training that involves improving interactions and communication; rehabilitation and employment which involves getting jobs for people with schizophrenia and helping them keep it; and individual therapy that involves teaching the patient skills to cope with stressful situations and the ability to recognize relapse of schizophrenia.
The cognitive behavior therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that teaches the patients how to manage symptoms and how to reduce the possible risk of relapse of schizophrenia. Self help groups are common nowadays that have people suffering from schizophrenia come together. In these groups, they discuss the disorder and lend support to each other. If the patient is facing severe symptoms, then hospitalization is necessary to carefully monitor the patient’s condition and ensure that the patient does not hurt himself.
Coping with a condition like schizophrenia is challenging, not only to the patient but to the entire family. Due to extensive research on this condition, better medications with lesser side effects are available now. It is important to take medications and undergo psychosocial therapy regularly to lessen the severity of the symptoms. Most of all, the patient needs all the support he can get from family and friends.
The life of John Forbes Nash Jr who overcame schizophrenia, is an inspiration to people suffering from this condition. John was a brilliant student. He was a genius at mathematics and a distinguished faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After his marriage, his behavior turned bizarre. He had hallucinations that aliens were sending messages to him. After showing initial recovery, his condition again relapsed after stopping medication. After years of struggle he completely defeated Schizophrenia by refusing to listen to ‘voices’ that were disturbing him. He later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics in the year 1994 which is great achievement for someone who suffered from schizophrenia. You can defeat Schizophrenia if you develop the strong will to do so.