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Understanding Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects how you think, feel, behave, and interact with others. It affects each person in a different way. A common myth about schizophrenia is that it causes a person to have “split personalities,” but this is not true.

People who have schizophrenia may:

  • Hear and see things that are not there (hallucinations)

  • Believe things that are not true (delusions)

  • Think that some people are trying to harm them paranoia

  • Lose interest and drive to do things

  • Have difficulty taking care of themselves

Many people living with schizophrenia experience paranoia. This causes people to have frightening thoughts, believe that people or forces are trying to harm them, and hear voices. With treatment, people with schizophrenia can come to understand that these hallucinations and delusions are not real, but are a part of the illness. They can learn to cope with symptoms. 

Living with schizophrenia can cause many challenges. It changes your life and your family members' lives. However, with the right treatments and the support of loved ones, many people with schizophrenia successfully manage their symptoms and live full and meaningful lives.

Causes of schizophrenia

Experts don't know what causes schizophrenia. It may have different causes for different people. There are likely many different causes, including genetics, family history of the disease, and brain chemistry and structure. A baby's brain development in the womb may also play a part. Schizophrenia is not caused by anything you did, by personal weakness, or by the way your parents raised you.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Positive symptoms. "Positive" does not mean "good." Positive symptoms are things "added" or "new" to your personality or how you experience life because of schizophrenia. They include hallucinations and delusions. They also include difficulty thinking or speaking clearly. It may feel like your thoughts or speech are jumbled up, making it more difficult to communicate with others.

  • Negative symptoms. "Negative" does not mean "bad." Negative symptoms are things that are "lost" from your personality or how you experience life because of schizophrenia. Negative symptoms include not caring about things, having no interest or drive to do things, and not taking care of yourself, such as not bathing or not eating regularly. You may find it hard to say how you feel or have difficulty interacting with others.

  • Cognitive symptoms. These symptoms have to do with how you think. They can include difficulties with focus and concentration. It may be difficult to learn and understand new information. You may also have problems with memory. You may have trouble remembering information that you just learned or plans you made, such as appointments. Finally, it might be harder to make decisions or solve problems that come up in your day-to-day life. Cognitive symptoms may not obvious to you or others.

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start when a person is a teen or a young adult. But they may also start later in life. They may appear suddenly or develop slowly. You may not be aware of your symptoms.

Negative symptoms usually appear first. They may be hard to recognize as schizophrenia, because they are similar to symptoms of other problems, such as depression. Positive symptoms can start days, months, or years after the negative symptoms.

Early signs of schizophrenia may include:

  • Doing worse in school

  • Thinking that people are trying to harm you

  • Having changes in your personality, such as not wanting to see people

These signs don't mean you have schizophrenia. But if you have them, see a healthcare provider.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your health and about any unusual experiences you may have had, such as hearing voices or having confusing thoughts. You will have a physical exam. They may also suggest tests, such as blood tests or imaging tests. These are done to see if your symptoms may be caused by another health problem. With your permission, your healthcare provider may want to speak with family members or other loved ones to get more information about your symptoms.

Treatment for schizophrenia

Getting treatment and other help for schizophrenia can greatly improve your life.

Medicines can help your symptoms. Counseling and therapy help you change how you think about things and deal with the illness. Treatment professionals can provide ongoing support that can help you successfully manage symptoms and re-engage in activities that are meaningful to you.

When you have your symptoms well-maintained, you are in recovery. In the recovery process, you learn to cope with your symptoms and challenges, find and meet your goals, and get the support you need. Your recovery depends upon a partnership between you, your healthcare providers, and others who are important in your life.

The goals of treatment and recovery are to:

  • Reduce or stop symptoms

  • Reduce the number of times your symptoms come back or get worse (relapse)

  • Develop a personal plan for your recovery by setting and meeting goals for home, work, and relationships.

Your treatment and recovery plan may change as your experience of schizophrenia and your life change.

Help from family and friends

Having schizophrenia can be a scary experience. Family members and friends can help by learning about the condition and its treatment, educating friends and family about the illness, providing a positive and supportive atmosphere at home, providing practical supports like housing and transportation when possible, and making efforts to include the person with schizophrenia in family and social activities.

If you think someone you love has schizophrenia, help that person get to a healthcare provider. The sooner the illness is diagnosed, and they begin treatment, the more successful treatment and recovery may be.

People who have schizophrenia often stop treatment. This may be because they don't understand that they have an illness. It can also happen because the medicines they are prescribed cause side effects. When treatment stops, symptoms usually come back (relapse) or get worse. A relapse might happen right after treatment is stopped or months later. A later relapse makes it hard to see that stopping the medicine was the cause. During a relapse, some people who have schizophrenia can't deal with treatment on their own and may need to spend time in a hospital. You can help by encouraging your loved one to speak to their healthcare provider about their concerns with treatment before stopping on their own.

You can also help your loved one by providing emotional support to help them cope with:

  • Their symptoms

  • Their fear and distress about the illness

  • The negative attitudes some people have towards people with schizophrenia

It is important to be patient, kind, supportive, and hopeful with your loved one. This can be very difficult. Family members should think about joining support groups and connecting with other families that have similar experiences for support.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 3/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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