Schizophrenia does not mean "split personality." It is a term used for a
group of thought disorders in which the sufferer loses contact with reality.
The illness often results in chronic ill health and some degree of
How severe the illness is varies from person to person. At times, people
with schizophrenia appear normal. During an acute or psychotic phase,
though, persons cannot think straight and may lose all sense of who they or
Schizophrenia occurs in about 1.5% of the population. It affects men and
It usually begins during adolescence or young adulthood, but it can also
begin in middle or late life.
The exact cause for schizophrenia is not known. Many factors play a role:
||The risk increases if one or both
parents have schizophrenia.
||Factors in the environment. It may be
triggered by stress or viral infections.
||Brain abnormalities, such as making
too much of a certain brain chemical called dopamine.
How to Recognize Schizophrenia
Often, the sufferer's family or friends are the first to notice the
personality and behavior changes that go with schizophrenia. These changes
may not be evident for months or even years. Initially, the person may:
||Be unable to concentrate or sleep
||Withdraw from day-to-day activities
and social events
||Neglect personal grooming
||Show problems in communicating
Symptoms become more bizarre as the illness goes on. The schizophrenic
may suffer from these psychotic symptoms:
||Disordered thinking -
Thoughts shift from one topic to another without their control.
- Associations among thoughts are very loose.
- Thinking is not clear.
- Sometimes, sufferers think that their thoughts are being
broadcast to others or their thoughts echo in their heads.
- The person's speech can be vague or muddled. They may
substitute sounds or rhymes for words or make up words that
don't have meaning to others.
||Delusions - False ideas
that have no basis in reality. These can take a variety of forms:
- The schizophrenic can believe that they are another person
(such as Christopher Columbus).
- They might believe that someone is planning to harm them or
is spying on them.
- They may think that others can "hear" their thoughts or
control their feelings and actions.
||Hallucinations - Most
often, this is in the form of hearing voices that comment on the
person's thoughts or behaviors.
- These voices may also insult the person or tell them what to
- Less often, they are visual hallucinations - seeing things
that do not exist.
||Catatonic state - The
tendency to stay in a fixed physical position or extreme agitation.
This state may include:
- Stupor (decrease in reaction to the environment)
- Rigid or bizarre posture
Types of Schizophrenia
||Paranoid schizophrenia -
The main symptom is a constant suspicion with the fear that someone
is plotting to harm or destroy them.
- The main symptoms are incoherence, loose thought associations,
or grossly disorganized behavior.
- The main symptom is marked psychomotor problems, such as stupor,
rigidity, negativism, posturing, excitement.
Schizophrenia cannot be cured. It can, though, be controlled. Treatment
for it depends on its type and severity. Severe cases need treatment in a
hospital. This usually includes medication, therapy, and rehabilitation.
Medications most often used are anti-psychotics or major tranquilizers, also
called neuroleptics. These help to alter abnormal brain chemistry. They
reduce or get rid of the chance of relapse for many people when taken
regularly. They also help the person better utilize therapy.
These medications can have many side effects so they should only be given
under the care and monitoring of a physician, most often a psychiatrist.
Therapy can help the sufferer and their family and friends cope with the
emotional aspects of the disorder. Its goal is to also help the person learn
how to deal with stress and prevent future stresses from leading to further
illness. This is very important because schizophrenic attacks come and go in
cycles of relapse and remission.
The combination of medication and therapy should be tailored to the
person's needs. While some 10% of schizophrenics remain severely impaired
for life, many persons function well within the community with proper
Medical care, not self-help, is needed to treat schizophrenia.
What You Can Do for a Friend or Relative
||If you suspect someone you know has
signs of schizophrenia, get them to see a physician for proper
diagnosis and treatment. This may not be easy. They may not realize
or want to admit that they need help. They may also be afraid of
being "put away."
||Contact a physician or mental health
professional or agency for assistance in how to get help for them if
they refuse it.
||Do not leave a person alone who seems
to be extremely disturbed.
||Take part in family therapy sessions,
if necessary, to learn what you can do to help both you and the
sufferer cope with the illness.
||See that your family member or friend
takes their medication as ordered. If side effects occur, let their
Note: There are many different medications for
schizophrenia. It may take trials on different ones to find the medicine
or combination of medicines that works best for a person.