May 9, 2006
Schizophrenia - Still In Need of Public Awareness
David Prescott, Ph.D.
What is Schizophrenia? Schizophrenia has been recognized throughout recorded history. It affects about 1% of the population throughout the world, affecting men and women equally. While schizophrenia is often one of the most disabling psychiatric illnesses, advances in both medication and psychosocial treatment have been significant over the past few decades. Schizophrenia is often poorly understood. Research suggests that improved understanding of schizophrenia and its treatment is vital for both people who have the disorder and their families.
Positive symptoms: People with schizophrenia may have unusual thoughts, such as a belief that people are reading their minds or plotting against them. They may hear voices or see things that other people do not see. Such experiences are often very frightening and make the world seem unsafe. Mental health professionals term these types of symptoms positive symptoms of schizophrenia.
Negative Symptoms: Sometimes the most striking features of schizophrenia are the absence of things that most people without the disorder take for granted. People with schizophrenia often have trouble experiencing and expressing emotion. They may find it difficult or impossible to initiate activities, even getting started each day. Often people with schizophrenia feel like they simply “go through the motions” of life, and experience little or no enjoyment or pleasure. These symptoms are termed negative symptoms of schizophrenia.
When and Why do People Get Schizophrenia? Symptoms like hallucinations or delusions usually first occur in late teens or early twenties for men, and mid-twenties to early thirties for women. Many times, certain symptoms of schizophrenia last for many years, although people have times when they seem better or worse. As with many psychiatric disorders, genetics appears to be part of the cause, although not the entire cause of schizophrenia. For example, if one identical twin develops schizophrenia, the other twin has a 40-65% chance of also developing schizophrenia.
Is Medication The Only Treatment That Helps? Antipsychotic medications, like Thorazine and Haldol, revolutionized treatment for schizophrenia. A newer generation of antipsychotic medications, like clozapine, risperidone, and ziparasidone, have provided additional treatment options for people who don’t show improvement on older medications.
As with most health and mental health problems, medications are often only part of the solution. Particularly with schizophrenia, the role of understanding symptoms and intervening early is critical. Once stable on medication, people with schizophrenia often need help developing relationship and social skills, job skills, and managing residual symptoms of their illness. Family support and education is critical, since family members are often the primary source of support. The stress of managing a significant psychiatric illness on both the person and their family is significant and requires ongoing support from professionals and other families.
How Can I Show My Support? The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is a group dedicated to supporting persons with mental illness, including schizophrenia, and their families. They provide information, support meetings, and grassroots advocacy.
On Saturday, May 13th, the Maine Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is sponsoring a walk in Portland’s Back Bay to raise money and show support for people coping with mental illness. You can participate by calling:
207-622-5767, go to www.nami.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.