What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is still one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, with many false ideas and stigma surrounding the disorder. It is an illness of the brain that affects how a person perceives the world, thinks, and behaves. Having schizophrenia does not mean that you have multiple personalities. Many people also mistakenly believe that people with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous, but this is not true. In fact, people with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit one. Psychosis means “to break from reality,” and that’s exactly what schizophrenia is – a mental disorder that causes the individual to have difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not. Although schizophrenia is a psychotic illness, psychosis can also occur in other mental disorders, such as: bipolar disorder, depression, or as a result of taking drugs or alcohol.

General symptoms of schizophrenia to look out for:

  • Hallucinations where you see, feel, smell or hear things that aren’t there
  • Delusions, where you ‘just know’ things that seem unreal to other people
  • Confused thinking and difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling paranoid, believe that people are watching you or are out to get you
  • Isolating yourself from friends or family
  • Not paying attention to personal hygiene
  • Facial expressions appearing “flat” and expressionless

In the case of schizophrenia, other people might notice symptoms before you do, because the condition means you don’t always know what’s real. Many young people with schizophrenia will demonstrate a slow and gradual onset of the illness, with the symptoms growing in intensity over a period of months.

It’s important to understand that believing or sensing something that other people do not is not always a sign of schizophrenia. We can all believe things that other people do not – for example believing in a higher power, or that ghosts exist. Age-appropriate or culturally-appropriate beliefs are not considered delusions. The same is true for hallucinations. A small child’s imaginary friend is not a hallucination, as it is seen as an age-appropriate display of imagination. A hallucination is when you experience something through your senses (sound, sight, smell) that is not there. Delusions and hallucinations are diagnosed when people believe or sense something despite evidence that the belief or sensory perception does not exist.

How does schizophrenia affect young people? 

Schizophrenia typically  begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. As a result of the disorders severe symptoms, it may prevent affected young people from completing their education or finding employment if they do not receive the correct treatment  

The symptoms of schizophrenia can have a very negative affect on a young persons ability to function at school or work, as well as their relationships with family and friends. If a person is experiencing psychosis and is not aware of what is going on around them, they may also place themselves in dangerous situations. This is why it is important that they are diagnosed by a mental health professional as soon as possible, and can begin to receive the  correct treatment.

What causes schizophrenia? 

As with most mental disorders, there are a number of possible factors that could lead to someone developing schizophrenia. On a physical level schizophrenia has been is linked to structural and functional abnormalities in the brain. The regions of the brain that control and coordinate thinking, perceptions and behaviours are not functioning properly, making it difficult for the affected person to filter and process information. Schizophrenia can have a genetic component, and having a close relative with the disorder may increase a persons chances of developing it, although this is not true in all cases. Recent research has also suggested that significant use of marijuana may trigger the onset of schizophrenia in youth who are at risk for the illness. Young people with immediate family member with schizophrenia should always avoid using marijuana or other drugs.

Can schizophrenia be treated? 

There are a number of treatment options for schizophrenia. Once a diagnosis has been made by a mental health professional, they will work with you to determine which course of action is appropriate for your individual case. Early diagnosis of the disorder, together with appropriate treatment is very important for reducing the impact of schizophrenia on the individual. During severe episodes of psychosis, a person with schizophrenia may need to be hospitalised in order for them to stabilise.  They should leave the hospital with a treatment plan that will minimise their symptoms and help them to have a good quality of life.

A treatment plan will likely include:

Medication to help the brain correct the functioning of its cognitive and emotional control circuits. The most common medications prescribed for schizophrenia are antipsychotic medications. Once your symptoms are under control, you still need to continue taking medication, otherwise the symptoms will return.

Psychological treatments such as psychotherapy or “talk therapy” works by teaching you to better control your thoughts and emotions.

Healthy regular routine is very important for a person with schizophrenia. Getting enough sleep, following a healthy diet, abstaining from drugs and alcohol and getting regular exercise will all help you in managing your symptoms