Are the things that you’re seeing or hearing real?
Every day we rely on our senses to provide us with information. So, if we see or hear something, we believe it to be true. What if what you’re seeing or hearing isn’t real? For people with schizophrenia, they truly believe that what they are seeing or hearing is actually happening even though it isn’t. How do you develop schizophrenia and what’s the treatment? Can you prevent it from occurring?
Schizophrenia is when a person experiences a multitude of problems with their emotions, behaviors and thinking. They often have delusions and/or hallucinations. Delusions are when the person believes something to be true that isn’t based in reality. Hallucinations are when they see or hear things that aren’t there, but to them, it is as if it’s real. Most people have auditory hallucinations. Sometimes, the person will have difficulty communicating effectively to the point that they might not respond to questions appropriately or put together random words. This inability to function can cause them to have abnormal behavior, such as being childlike, overly silly, unpredictably agitated, unaccepting of instructions, have useless/excessive movements or don’t respond. These symptoms can be incredibly debilitating causing the person to not be able to function on a daily basis. This means they often forget to take care of personal hygiene issues, withdraw from social interaction and lose interest in normal activities. Symptoms can change in type and severity over time. Most men start having symptoms in their early to mid-20s; whereas, women start having symptoms in their late 20s. It’s rare for individuals over the age of 45 and uncommon for children to be diagnosed. Some people do develop schizophrenia as teenagers, but the symptoms can be hard to recognize because they are very similar to typical teenage behavior, such as trouble sleeping, lack of motivation, irritability, depressed, a decrease in performance at school and withdrawing from family/friends. Teenagers aren’t likely to have delusions, but are more likely to have visual hallucinations.
Schizophrenia is thought to be the result of brain chemistry, genetics and environment. The neurotransmitters, dopamine and glutamate, are naturally present in your brain, but there is some fluctuation in their amount in people who have schizophrenia. Certain genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role in the fluctuation. If you have a family history of schizophrenia, overactive immune system (ex. autoimmune disorders), your father was older when you were conceived, your mother had complications during pregnancy/your birth or you took mind-altering drugs when you were a teenager/young adult, you are at a greater risk of developing it. If its not treated, it can lead to many serious, and life-threatening, complications, like depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol/drug abuse, social isolation, health problems, inability to work, legal/financial issues, self-injury and suicide.
Since most people who have schizophrenia are unaware of their symptoms and the impact it’s having on their lives, it often takes an intervention from a family member or friend for them to realize that they need help. It’s essential to note that you can’t force someone to get help. However, if the person is unable to take care of themselves or is a danger to themselves or others, then you should call 911 in order to get them the professional help they need. Each state has laws regarding involuntary commitment in cases of emergency hospitalizations. So, it’s important to understand these to know what you’re able to do to help. Unfortunately, suicidal thoughts/behaviors are very common for people with schizophrenia. If you are concerned that your loved one might be suicidal, be sure to stay with them and call 911 immediately.
Once a person starts treatment for schizophrenia, they must continue to seek treatment for the rest of their life, even if they aren’t currently having symptoms. The two main components of treatment are medications and psychosocial therapy. Antipsychotics are the most commonly used class of medications. They interact with dopamine in the brain and are thought to help regulate the levels. The goal of any medication therapy is to manage the person’s symptoms at the lowest possible dose. Since each person is different this can mean that your doctor might try different medicines/doses or combination of medicines until they find the best fit for you. Antipsychotics can cause significant side effects, which can make it difficult for individuals to comply with taking them. The newer, second-generation medications don’t have as many as the first-generation ones, so many doctors prefer using them. Your doctor might also prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, if you need them. For adults, who don’t respond to medications, your doctor may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Psychosocial therapy usually involves several different types. Individual therapy is used to help the person deal with stress, stabilize thought patterns and recognize early warning signs of a relapse. Social skills training is to help them improve their ability to communicate and participate in social interactions so they can function in daily activities. Vocational rehabilitation helps the person to train for, find and retain a job. Family therapy can help to educate and support families who have a someone that is living with schizophrenia.
There is no specific way to prevent schizophrenia. If you have schizophrenia, the goal is to try to prevent a relapse from occurring. The best way to do this is by sticking with your treatment plan, even if you are feeling better. Staying focused on your goals can help you stay motivated about following your plan. It’s essential to learn as much as possible about the disorder, so you can manage it. It can be helpful to join a support group so you can talk to others who have similar situations. Ask your doctor about services that can help you with daily activities, such as affordable housing and transportation options. Find ways to manage your stress, so it’s easier for you to relax and less likely for symptoms to return.
Schizophrenia can feel like a burden, but it can be managed under the right treatment plan. If you have any questions or concerns about schizophrenia, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) schizophrenia page at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia