What is Schizophrenia Anyway?

Many believe that Schizophrenia is a “split personality”, which it is not.  A “split personality” usually is associated with severe trauma whereas Schizophrenia is a thought disorder and tries to play tricks on a person’s mind.  Schizophrenia comes in active and residual phases, with active phases being more pronounced and eye-opening than when symptoms are more lingering and at a lower level of intensity.  

Active symptoms primarily fool the person into trusting illusionary experiences that hinder their ability to stay in touch with reality.  These symptoms include seeing, hearing or even feeling things that no one else can (hallucinations), having beliefs or delusions about something even if it is proven false, having difficulty organizing their thoughts or connecting them logically (disorganized thinking), and at times experiencing involuntary movements or lack of movement altogether (catatonic).  Examples of those struggling with active symptoms include those listening and talking to no one except the voices coming from within their head, displaying paranoia or worrying that others may be talking about them or out to get them, seeing things not there or feeling bodily symptoms, such as feeling bugs crawling on the skin, and/or feeling pressure/pain which is not real. 

And then there are those negative or residual symptoms that come in between, with minimal emotion or a depressed mood, lacking interest in doing things and not finding pleasure in their days.  finding it difficult to feel pleasure in everyday life, avoiding involvement in planned activities and reduced interaction with others, as well as eating/sleeping problems, etc. 

Oftentimes, these individuals can be found in low rental units or are homeless due to having little money to work with.  Usually, many are unemployable due to being overwhelmed by their symptoms, including their lack of organized thoughts, intermittent active delusions and hallucinations, poor health, interactional problems, etc.  Primarily, these individuals are not dangerous, and are at comparable levels to those that have a substance abuse problem. 

Usually, Schizophrenia comes on gradually, beginning in young adulthood and is chronic in nature, although symptoms generally wane when older.  The cause of Schizophrenia varies from environmental (cannabis or drug use during adolescence, certain infections, ages of the person’s parents upon conception, poor nutrition during pregnancy) to genetic factors with rare genetic deviations and a family predisposition to the disorder.  

Less than 1% of the population is diagnosed with Schizophrenia.  About 20% of those diagnosed eventually do well, but only a few recover completely.  Generally, their life expectancy is 20-25 years less than the average population. Oftentimes, as a means of coping, caffeine, cannabis, and cigarettes (80-90% vs. 20% for the general population) are used more frequently compared to the general population. They also have a higher suicide rate at 5-10% of the general population vs. 20-40% of those who have schizophrenia. 

Anti-psychotic medication, counseling, job training and social rehabilitation are primary treatments.  Unfortunately, medication compliance is a complication for those that forget to take them, struggle with the side effects or become delusional about being poisoned or controlled.  The general population needs to understand this disorder, without being afraid or judging those that have it.  Schizophrenia is unpredictable and a diagnosis no one desires.  Support and understanding are excellent antidotes for those oftentimes suffering alone.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

St. Williams Mental Health