A word that evokes a sense of anxiety in people when poorly understood. With the right information, it can be diagnosed and treated in a timely manner, which improves the prognosis of the disease. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People who suffer from schizophrenia, may have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. They may also have difficulty in expressing normal emotions in a social situation.

Schizophrenia is not the same as split personality or multiple personality. Symptoms mostly start between the ages of 16 and 30. Males tend to show symptoms at a slightly younger age than females. For many people the symptoms develop slowly over a period of time, wherein at times they are also confused with other disorders. However, there are also instances of a sudden acute start of the disorder.

SYMPTOMS The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are different for everyone. The disease may come and go in cycles of relapse and remission. The major symptoms are commonly called 'Psychotic Symptoms'.

  • Hallucinations – Person may hear voices, smell odours, feel sensations on their skin, detect tastes, and see people or things that are not present.
  • Delusions – they are false beliefs. Delusions are ideas that have no basis in reality. The individual might experience paranoia, in which he or she thinks others are plotting against them when in reality that is not the case; a false belief of superiority, in which the individual may feel that they are very superior and have powers. The individual may also feel that someone else is controlling their mind.
  • Thought disorders – unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking.
  • Movement disorders – physically rigid or lax behavior (catatonia).

Other Symptoms are:

  • Reduced expression of emotions either by facial expression or voice tone and speech.
  • Peculiar way of speaking or writing.
  • Strange body positioning.
  • Feeling indifferent to very important situations.
  • Speaking or moving in a confused manner.
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life.
  • Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities.
  • Deterioration of academic or work performance.
  • A change in personal hygiene and appearance.
  • A change in personality.
  • Irrational or constant angry or fearful responses to loved ones.
  • Increasing withdrawal from social situations.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Unusual or odd behavior.
  • Extreme preoccupation with religion.
  • Unawareness of the illness as the hallucinations and delusions are real for them.
  • Difficulty in maintaining an organised life and communication.

People who experiences one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks should seek help immediately. CAUSES Schizophrenia may not have a single, definite known cause. It may have multiple causes that interrelate with each other.

  • It is a brain disorder - imbalances of the chemicals in the brain may cause the disorder. Complications during brain development before birth may lead to faulty connections. Developmental changes could trigger psychotic symptoms in people who are vulnerable due to genetics or brain differences.
  • Genetics - it is likely if a family member has the condition. People who have immediate family members with Schizophrenia are more vulnerable to developing schizophrenia compared to people who do not have such a family history.
  • Environmental factors - Difficult life circumstances during childhood, like the early loss of a parent, bullying in school/peers, witnessing domestic violence, being the victim of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse or of physical or emotional neglect, and insecure attachment have been associated with increased risks of developing this illness.
  • Drugs - particularly marijuana (cannabis), amphetamines, and hallucinogens, have been found to increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms.

TREATMENT There is no cure for schizophrenia as it is a life long illness. However, many people with this illness can lead productive and fulfilling lives with the proper treatment. Treatment aims to control symptoms. Treatment can help the patient to manage many of the symptoms of schizophrenia. It involves a combination of medication and supportive therapy.

  • Medication - can help control the symptoms. Antipsychotic medications are usually taken daily in pill or liquid form. Some antipsychotics are in injection forms that are given once or twice a month. The patient must continue taking medication even when symptoms are gone. Otherwise they will come back.
  • Counselling - after the symptoms are controlled by medication, many types of therapy can help the person with the illness to manage their lives better.

Individual Therapy: helps the client to understand and change their behavior which helps them to adjust back into society. It helps them to function in their daily life and in social situations. Therapy can help them to cope with stress better, understand the early signs of a relapse and how to prolong periods of remission. Group therapy: helps the patient to express and share their experiences and concerns about the illness.

  • Family psycho-education and support – for people who are affected with Schizophrenia, their families are also affected. The primary care givers play a very significant role in helping the person with the illness to cope with it. Family members are educated about the illness with helps them to understand the family member affected by the illness. Family or Care giver support groups help families, to cope better.
  • Rehabilitation and Day Care Centres – After the Acute symptoms have settled, patients need help to develop life – management skills, vocational and educational training, skills to maintain a routine in daily life and ability to hold a job/work. Social-skills training involve teaching clients ways to handle social situations appropriately.

Managing Schizophrenia is possible. Like any other long term illness, it needs constant management. Working closely with mental health professionals can help to track the illness and get the most effective treatment.

It is important to remember that relapses can occur. In the course of treatment the individual and family members can learn to identify the early warning signs and seek help. The rate of relapse is higher if the person stops medication. A calm and upportive approach is very important. Being optimistic will help deal with the illness better.

Seek help immediately. BE OPTIMISTIC