• Hannah Ridsdale

What is Schizophrenia?

Updated: Jun 20


My brother took his life, aged 26, last April after battling with schizophrenia for over ten years. I have since made it my mission to ensure people have a greater understanding of schizophrenia, as the term is laden with misconception.

Whilst in recent years, there has been a shift in the perception of anxiety and depression, schizophrenia is still taboo. Without an open dialogue, the illness remains very much left in the dark. With such little transparency, so many members of society are not educated about the illness and therefore don't understand the vital need for funding research. The lack of research prohibits the progression into finding a cure to Schizophrenia, allowing the illness to remain incurable. A vicious circle.



"Part of the problem is that most people who have never experienced psychosis, find it hard to imagine what it’s like. Most of us can relate to depression and anxiety, but a lot of us struggle to empathise with people affected by schizophrenia.” - Dr Joseph Hayes



Schizophrenia is often referred to as the forgotten illness.


Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Symptoms may include hearing voices, seeing things that are not real, unusual beliefs and confused thinking. The illness can impair daily functioning and can be very disabling. The person diagnosed may lose interest in everyday activities, become socially withdrawn or lack the ability to experience pleasure.


About one in 100 people will develop schizophrenia.



Symptoms

People with Schizophrenia may have a few or all of the symptoms listed below.


Hallucinations Hearing voices or other sounds are the most common hallucination: The voices may be,

  • someone they know or someone they've never heard before,

  • in a different language or different accent,

  • whispering or shouting, or

  • negative and disturbing.


Delusions They may have fixed beliefs that do not match up to the way other people see the world. Delusions may include that,

  • they are being chased, plotted against or poisoned,

  • people on television are sending messages to them, or

  • their thoughts are being broadcast aloud,

  • someone they know, the government or aliens are responsible.

Disorganised thinking

Another symptom is ‘disorganised thinking’. Someone diagnosed with the illness might start talking quickly or slowly. The things they say might not make sense to other people.


Cognitive Impairment

Symptoms that negatively affect mental action include being unable to sustain attention, memory problems, unable to take on information and poor decision making.


Emotional Impairment

Symptoms that involve loss of ability and enjoyment in life can include a lack of motivation, difficulty in planning and setting goals, reduced range of emotions, less interest in socialising or hobbies and activities.



Diagnosis


Men and women are equally likely to develop this brain disorder, but men tend to get it slightly earlier. Schizophrenia usually takes hold after puberty. On average, men are diagnosed in their late teens to early 20s. Women tend to get diagnosed in their late 20s to early 30s and then again around 40 years of age.


Schizophrenia can be hard to diagnose as those with the disorder often don't realise they're ill, so they're unlikely to go to a doctor for help.



Causes


Researchers still have a lot to learn about what causes schizophrenia. However, research suggests it is likely to be the result of several factors, including brain chemistry, genetics, birth complications and environmental factors.


Schizophrenia tends to run in families, but no single gene is thought to be responsible.

Studies have shown there are subtle differences in the brain structure of those diagnosed. Research has shown people who develop the illness are more likely to have experienced complications before and during birth that have a subtle effect on brain development. A stressful life event can trigger schizophrenia in people who are already predisposed to it, like childhood abuse or the loss of a family member.


Recreational drugs may trigger symptoms of schizophrenia in people who are susceptible to the illness. Teenagers and young adults who use cannabis regularly are more likely to develop schizophrenia in later adulthood.



Treatment


People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment which is usually a combination of talking therapies and medication. Early treatment may help get symptoms under control before serious complications develop and may help improve the long-term outlook.



Media


The medias representation of people with schizophrenia is often associated with violence, which in turn instigates fear amongst society.


In reality, violence is not a symptom of the illness and those affected are more of a danger to themselves than to others. In addition, they are much more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.


10% of people with schizophrenia die by suicide.




- Hannah


Cover picture from Infinitemoon.com