Schizophrenia is probably the most distressing and disabling mental disorder. The first signs of schizophrenia tend to surface in adolescence or young adulthood. Symptoms are confusing and can be distressing to family and friends.
People with schizophrenia suffer from problems with their thought processes. These lead to hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, and unusual speech or behaviour. Symptoms affect the ability to interact with others, and often people with schizophrenia withdraw from the outside world.
Contrary to popular belief, people with schizophrenia do not have 'split personalities'. Another common belief is that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. In fact, they can be dangerous, but mostly only during the acute phases of their disease. It is fair to say that people with schizophrenia are far more likely to be victims of violence and crime than to commit violent acts.
Schizophrenia is a life-long illness and most patients will need treatment for the rest of their lives. This means they will miss out on career opportunities, stable relationships and friendships. Because of the lack of public understanding, people with schizophrenia often feel isolated and stigmatised, and may be reluctant or unable to talk about their illness.
Despite the availability of new medication with less severe and fewer side effects, only one person in five 'recovers' from the illness, and one in ten people with schizophrenia commits suicide.
Schizophrenia is distressing for everyone involved. Patients clearly suffer from great disruption to their lives. Families and friends will also be seriously affected and distressed because of the effects schizophrenia has on their relative and the burden of caring for their beloved one. Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be especially difficult for relatives and friends who remember their beloved one before s/he became ill.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, many people still believe that schizophrenia is caused by poor parenting or a lack of will power. Nothing is further from the truth. Schizophrenia is a complex illness and scientists believe it is caused by a number of different factors that act together. These factors include: genetic influences, trauma (injury) to the brain occurring during or around the time of birth, as well as the effects of social isolation and/or stress. In some cases the use of drugs, such as cannabis can also be a contributing factor. However, as yet no single factor has been identified as the cause of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia affects between 1 and 2% of people. The illness occurs all over the world and the incidence (or the rate of the illness) is similar in different countries and different cultures. Men and women are at equal risk of developing the illness. Whereas in men the illness tends to surface between the ages of 16 and 25, most females develop symptoms between the ages of 25 and 30.
When taken regularly and followed as prescribed, medications and other treatments
for schizophrenia, can help reduce and control symptoms. However, some people don't experience the benefits of available treatments, or may prematurely discontinue treatment because of unpleasant side effects, including weight gain, or intolerance to the medication. Even when treatment is effective, patients often find it difficult to persevere with treatment. Lost career opportunities, stigma, ongoing symptoms and/or side effects can cause many difficulties and prevent patients from leading a normal life.
Substance misuse is a common concern for relatives. Some people who take drugs show symptoms that are very similar to schizophrenia symptoms. Often people with schizophrenia are mistaken for drug addicts. Moreover, people with schizophrenia often misuse alcohol and/or drugs and may react really badly to certain drugs. Substance abuse can also reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
Stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine or drugs such as PCP or marijuana, can cause serious problems and make symptoms worse. Substance misuse also reduces the likelihood that patients will stick to the treatment plans recommended by their doctors.
The most common form of substance misuse seen in people with schizophrenia is nicotine dependence as a result of smoking. People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to smoke than the general population. However, the relationship between smoking and schizophrenia is complex and smoking tends to interfere with the patient's response to medication. This means that a patient who smokes may need to take a higher dose of antipsychotic medication.
Read more about the symptoms of schizophrenia.