Schizophrenia: Affecting 2.2 Million in the United States

Mental illnesses include several disorders and diseases. Individuals not personally affected by mental disorders may not realize that these illnesses are very common. It is estimated that 54 million people worldwide suffer from one of many mental illnesses. The different sorts of mental illnesses are too long to list; however, common disorders include bipolar disorder, social anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and so forth. A myth regarding mental illnesses is that those who live with these conditions are crazy or wacko. However, this notion is far from the truth. Granted, some people do suffer from extreme mental conditions. Perhaps you have witnessed a person acting in an unusual manner, such as talking to themselves or appearing detached from their surrounding. These individuals likely suffer from a severe, sometimes debilitating mental illness known as schizophrenia.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disease or mental illness that affects the ability to think and function normally. Those who suffer from schizophrenia may experience hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. This condition may be extremely frightening for those newly diagnosed. These individuals may be fully aware of changes in their mental function; however, they are unable to control the changes. There are different types of schizophrenia, and the severity of the illness varies. Some are able to control this illness with medications, whereas others remain in a disabling condition and require extensive therapy. There are three types of schizophrenia, these include:

Distorted Reality: Those who suffer from schizophrenia will have a perception that is slightly different from others. Individuals with normal brain function often feel safe when surrounded by family members or relaxing at home. However, schizophrenia results in a constant anxiousness or tense feeling. These persons may feel as if someone is trying to harm them.

Hallucinations: Individuals who suffer from schizophrenia may also hear voices in their head or see images that are not really there. In severe cases, the schizophrenic is unaware that sounds and images are not real. These persons may carry full length conversations with an imaginary being. This is why it appears that some schizophrenics are talking to themselves.

Paranoia or Delusions: Schizophrenics are likely to experience unexplained fear. These individuals may strongly feel that someone or something is trying to cause harm to themselves or family. In addition, some may create a false reality believing that they are a government spy or a famous person.

Those who do not understand schizophrenia link this illness with multiple personalities. Additionally, in historic times, those who suffered from schizophrenia were thought to be possessed by a demon. However, schizophrenics do not have more than one personality, nor do they require the help of an exorcist. Schizophrenia is a real mental illness, and must be taken seriously.

History of Schizophrenia

Although schizophrenia has only been classified as a mental illness within the last 100 years, physicians suggest that this illness has been with mankind for centuries. Prior to diagnosing people with this mental illness, those who suffered from schizophrenia were termed “mad.” These individuals included anyone with slightly abnormal brain functions. Centuries ago there were no psychiatrists or doctors available to diagnose conditions such as mental retardation, depression, or dementia. There is historical evidence that leads many to believe that those who displayed abnormal behavior in ancient times were identified as having a psychotic disorder. Back then, there was little that could be done to treat these conditions. Because ancient doctors felt that demons were the culprit, they would suggest rituals that were intended to release the evil spirit from the person’s body.

Who is affected by Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia affects both males and female regardless of age. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people will suffer from this mental illness. This accounts for approximately 1% of the population. On average, a person begins to show signs of schizophrenia between the ages of 18 and 30. However, it is possible for young children and older adults to develop schizophrenia. Although the exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown, researchers have detected a pattern. It appears that this illness runs in families, thus genetics are involved. Moreover, those born in a large city and during the winter months are more prone to develop schizophrenia. An interesting theory suggests that a viral infection that is common during winter and early spring may affect the brain function of unborn babies, thus increasing their chances of developing schizophrenia. Additional risk factors for developing schizophrenia include:

Having another psychological disorder
Childhood head injury
Substance or drug abuse
Conceived by parents over the age of 50
Malnutrition as a baby

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia includes a range of symptoms. These symptoms are classified as being either negative or positive. Negative symptoms include vital traits that are lost as a person’s brain function deteriorates. Positive symptoms include traits that evolve as a result of the illness.

Negative symptoms include:

Loss of pleasure
Lack of motivation
Difficulty concentrating

Positive symptoms include:

Bizarre behavior
Distorted reality

In the early stages, signs of schizophrenia may be ignored or not easily detected. However, symptoms generally appear by late teens. Teenagers that suddenly or gradually begin to behave differently, and show signs of one or more of the following symptoms, should be examined by a doctor or psychiatrist. Schizophrenia is a common illness, and may develop regardless of whether a person has any of the risk factors.

Diagnosing Schizophrenia

A mental health assessment is the only way to determine whether a person suffers from schizophrenia. This assessment includes discussing a patient’s family history and examining symptoms. Other tests such as a MRI or CAT scan may become necessary to rule out other brain disorders that cause similar symptoms.

Treatment Options

Those newly diagnosed with schizophrenia need to educate themselves about this condition. A diagnosis may become frightening. Often, the future is uncertain. Schizophrenics may enter remission period where they do not display any symptoms. Nonetheless, relapses are common, and arrive with little warning. Medications are very effective with controlling the symptoms of schizophrenia. Moreover, counseling sessions may help sufferers and family members cope with the long term effects of the illness. Doctors and psychiatrist will likely provide patients and family members with information on local support groups. Support groups are beneficial because those living with this illness are given the opportunity to openly communicate with others in a similar situation.

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