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Schizophrenics are neither blessed nor crazy as they’ve often been believed throughout history. They are people whose minds are filled with uncontrollable, torturing thoughts and whose lives are filled with fear and loneliness.

Experts estimate that about one percent of people in the world suffer from some form of this disease. Gender and race seems to make little difference in who is stricken with this. It usually begins in a person’s teens or early adulthood and usually lasts a lifetime.

Schizophrenics live in a world of horrible confusion in which imaginings and reality become so intertwined that they cannot distinguish between them. Life becomes a dream, day and night, with no hope of escape by simply “waking up.” For many the world seems to be full of critics, persecutors and even assassins. Some believe themselves to possess fantastic mental and physical powers. They often develop anxiety and abnormal eating and sleeping habits. Their existence is lonely, despairing, and often exhausting. Sufferers often become distant and retreat from society. Many schizophrenic’s thoughts turn to suicide as the only escape. Suicide attempts are extraordinarily high among schizophrenics the death rate is chilling.

Treatment of this disorder is complicated by the fact that it appears in many different forms with many different symptoms. Drugs that help some patients have no effect or cause complicated side effects on others. Also a drug that works this month for a particular patient may not work next month.

Schizophrenia has often been thought of as split personality. It was believed that there are two or more people living in one body. Often one of the personalities was thought of as good and the other bad. The DSM-IV does not use this term because the term is far too simplistic to truly describe this complex disorder. Schizophrenia is so complex that no detailed definition of it seems to apply clearly to every person who suffers from the disorder.

Though it is commonly referred to as a disease, it is better thought of as what doctors call a syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that are likely to show up together but do not have a single, easily identifiable cause.

Schizophrenia is not preventable. It has been called “youth’s greatest disabler.” It usually begins between the ages of 16 and 30 but has been diagnosed in children as young as 5. The illness can begin later in life, but it is unusual to see preliminary symptoms after the age of 40.

Unlike a mentally well person who enjoys an entertaining escape by choice, then decide when it’s time to return to reality, the schizophrenic does not have control over when they will or will not retreat from reality. There are few anchors to reality. Fantasy and reality merge constantly and the sufferer cannot separate the two.

To cope, a schizophrenic person often tries to withdraw from reality. This results in utter loneliness. Meanwhile, the fantasy world into which the person tries to escape may be anything but pleasant. As the victim struggles to determine what in life is real they become confused and exhausted. They have fragmented thoughts and feel physically fatigued.

The schizophrenic person is constantly confused and anxious, though withdrawn and often quiet. The schizophrenic person may ignore his or her surroundings and sit completely still and silent for hours. At other times, he or she may be in a frenzy of activity even when most people around them are sleeping. There are times between when the person just seems blank. They speak in a monotone and display neither sadness, joy, nor any other emotion.

While speaking their thought process may become fragmented. Do to this distraction the speaker may be unable to finish expressing even a simple idea. She or he may be unable to connect logical causes and reactions. Hearing of a tragedy may make the person laugh while a joke may make the person feel sad.

Schizophrenia was not given its name until the 20th century. It has affected people throughout history, however, in practically every society. The Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler first used the word “schizophrenia” in 1911 but many years passed before the term was clearly defined. Earlier in the 19th century, the disorder was known as dementia praecox.

In schizophrenics suicide attempts are usually not triggered by the victim’s imaginary voices or delusions. Instead, they usually happen during cycles when the disorder has eased somewhat. When the individual is able to understand the depth of the problem, he or she is likely to feel depressed and hopeless.

Researchers have reported that people with psychological disorders, including schizophrenia, are no more prone to violence than the general population. In fact, schizophrenics are far more likely to withdraw into their private worlds than to commit public acts of violence.

Unlike some mental disorders, schizophrenics do not have long periods of normality to look forward to. In most cases of schizophrenia the problems are ongoing, and medication must be taken for the long term.

Due to the person being unable to concentrate and to make quick well-thought out decisions, school work, specific tasks, or on the job duties may be unusually difficult. Schizophrenics are often friendless because ordinary conversation, expressing their feelings, and other social interaction can be so difficult for them.

Fortunately this disease does not get worse with age. Patients can hope for successful treatment even later in life.

There are no genetic or chemical tests to prove that a person has schizophrenia. Some symptoms of schizophrenia lasts as little as a month while others last for six months or more at a time.

There are many dysfunctions that can be caused by schizophrenia. There can be problems with concentration and reasoning, emotional upsets, halting or nonsensical speech, or an apparent attitude of carelessness or lack of attention.

There are two categories of symptoms of schizophrenia. Positive and negative. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations and delusions. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia are not as obviously alarming as the positive ones but can be a serious indicator of unhealthiness. Once common negative symptom is affective flattening. The schizophrenic may look dazed, not make eye contact, or not respond to communication. Another symptom is a poverty of speech, which is called Alogia. When questioned the schizophrenic may give short, and sometimes meaningless answers. Avovition is the inability to initiate and persist in goal-directed activities. The person may sit for long periods of time and show no interest in participation in anything.

Families of schizophrenics must learn to deal with many issues. Some of these issues are: denial, grief, fear, guilt, exhaustion, anger and bitterness, loss of control, marital problems, and loss of place in the community.

Overcoming the stigma associated with schizophrenia is especially difficult for the sufferer due to the hallucinations and delusions.

Many things have been identified as triggering symptoms of schizophrenia. These include street drugs, heavy consumption of alcohol, nicotine and excessive amounts of caffeine, over-the-counter medications, and life stresses.

Several types of medication have been used to treat schizophrenia. Some are pills, others are injected. Antipsychotics have become increasingly prescribed. These include Thorazine, Mellaril, Haldol, Clozaril, and Risperdal. It is usually vital that patients continue to take it regularly. As many as 80% of patients who stop taking their antipsychotic medication suffer relapses of the disease within two years. Only about 40% of those who continue to take the medication have relapses during that period. Although medication and other forms of treatment can help restore a normal, peaceful state of mind, they cannot make up for the person’s loss of social development. Chances today of schizophrenics being able to live normal, happy lives are much higher than they were in the past. As many as 25% now recover almost completely and close to 50% can expect at least a partial recovery.

Family members can be the most helpful thing to a schizophrenic. Family members can be life savers in many ways. Healthy family environment can significantly help bring about stabilization of the ill person’s condition and can help decrease the chance of traumatic relapses.

Family members are usually the first to observe the schizophrenic symptoms. According to the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society there are many early warning signs that can appear in various combinations.

  • Declining interest in sports, school, etc in which the person was once devotedly involved.
  • Ending of longtime friendships
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Poor eating habits and dramatic weight change
  • Depression or apparent lack of emotion
  • Inexplicable glee or silliness
  • Odd physical expressions and behavior
  • Blank stares

At first schizophrenics often resist evaluation. Family or close friends must take the initiative in addressing the problem and trying to persuade the individual to seek medical help. Once a person is evaluated and stabilized the family can help ensure that the patient follows the prescribed treatment. Family can also make sure the schizophrenic receives balanced meals and regular exercise and gets rest. Loved ones are also very important in building the person’s confidence and encouraging independence. It is important however that they do not pressure the individual. They must be careful not to judge or criticize the person’s actions or progress.

Familiar, predictable routines are important. Loved ones must be consistent in their actions and attitudes when relating to the troubled relative. It is important for the ill person to remain relaxed and calm at all times. A schizophrenic, like every other human being, has a need for privacy that should be respected. Loved ones should be available for them but not intrusive. The most important thing when dealing with a schizophrenic is patience. There is no quick recovery from this disease.

A friend is an invaluable thing to a schizophrenic. The friend needs to be sympathetic and patient as well as realistic. When a schizophrenic is obviously deluded it is important for the persons supporters not to go along with the fantasy. The best response is to point out delicately the difference between what the sufferer perceives and what the supporter sees. The friend should explain that he has a different understanding of the situation while assuring the schizophrenic that what they are trying to express is understood. A friend can help the individual by helping them to focus on completing school assignments or maintaining job performance.

The World Schizophrenia Fellowship is one of many groups dedicated to helping those with this disease and those close to them. It is located at 238 Davenport Rd. P.O. Box 118 Toronto, Ontario M5R 1J6 Canada and can be found on the web at http://www.origo.com/wsf/

Source: Schizophrenia: Losing Touch with Reality By Daniel E. Harmon