Schizophrenia

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder which affects the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. This occurs as a result of disorganized or overactive brain activity. Schizophrenia tends to first occur during the teenage years or in early adulthood. The symptoms and severity of schizophrenia can vary widely from person to person, and often begin with subtle symptoms, such as withdrawing from social life and decreased motivation, as well as developing strange beliefs or hearing and seeing things which are not real. Diagnosis is usually made by a psychiatrist. Management is usually provided by an experienced team and involves medication and support. Early diagnosis and good management gives the best chance of a full recovery.

Risks

Schizophrenia occurs when there is a disturbance in the chemicals responsible for the brain's messaging system. The cause of schizophrenia is not well understood, but it's probable that several factors combine to cause this condition. This includes problems that occur during birth, the use of some drugs and experiencing stressful or traumatic events. There may be a genetic cause, as schizophrenia tends to run in families. Most people with schizophrenia will begin to have symptoms in their teenage years, and most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35. Schizophrenia can affect both men and women.

Symptoms

The symptoms of schizophrenia can vary greatly from person to person. In the early stages, the symptoms are often frightening, and the affected person may not tell anyone that these are occuring. Generally speaking, there are two groups of symptoms in schizophrenia. The first type includes the better known symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hearing, feeling or seeing things that are not real, and having strange, strongly held beliefs. Other symptoms include speaking in an illogical, confused fashion, and acting erraticlly and disorganized. The less dramatic symptoms are possibly more common, though not as well known. These include avoiding social life, disorganized behavior, decreased motivation, a decrease in emotional response, and slowed thinking and movements. The symptoms of schizophrenia often interfere severely with everyday life.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made by an experienced doctor or psychiatrist based on the symptoms. Talking to people close to the affected person is also helpful in confirming the diagnosis. It is important to exclude other causes for the symptoms, and this may involve blood tests and scans of the head.

Treatment

The management of schizophrenia takes place in a supportive team of health workers. It involves controlling the symptoms, and providing emotional and psychological support and help to get back to everyday life. People with symptoms of schizophrenia can be treated at home, or if the symptoms are very severe, in a hospital. Antipsychotic medications help to slow down the activity in the brain that produces the symptoms of schizophrenia. These may be tablets or injections, and may be taken for 1 to 2 years after the diagnosis, or longer if needed. Supportive measures are very important, and may include counseling, occupational therapy and help from a social worker in managing the practical parts of life. These treatment measures should focus on the individual's abilities and aim for independent living. Early diagnosis and treatment gives the best chance of a good recovery.

Prevention

People with schizophrenia should stay in good contact with their mental health management team to help recognize recurrences early and prevent severe episodes of symptoms.

Other names for schizophrenia

  • Paranoid hallucinogenic schizophrenia