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Schizophrenia: The most misunderstood mental illness
Posted: April 2, 2012
Last Updated: April 2, 2012

Schizophrenia is not what you think. Schizophrenia is not multiple or split personalities. People suffering from schizophrenia are not like on the movies or television, which portrays them as violent psychopaths. Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses in American society today.

In reality, schizophrenia is one of the most disabling and puzzling of mental disorders. The term “schizophrenia” refers to many closely related illnesses. Researchers now consider schizophrenia a group of mental disorders rather than a single disorder.  

Schizophrenia affects about 1 percent of the world population. In the United States one in a hundred people, about 2.5 million, have this disease. You might know someone with schizophrenia and not even be aware of it.

The cause of schizophrenia is still unclear. Some research indicates that the disorder might be genetic since a child with one schizophrenic parent has a ten percent chance of developing the illness as opposed to a one percent chance in the general population. Current research implicates abnormalities in both the brain's structure and biochemical activities. Researchers also tend to agree that environmental influences may be involved in the onset of schizophrenia.

Generally, schizophrenia begins in late adolescents or early adulthood.  Symptoms can appear gradually or suddenly. Gradual onset can be a build up of symptoms over a long period of time and may or may not lead to a crisis episode, a short and intense episode that involves hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, and an altered sense of self.  Sudden onset is a very and sudden dramatic change in behavior that occurs in a few weeks or even days. Sudden onset can lead to an acute episode. Some people with schizophrenia have very few episodes in a lifetime.  Other people can have more. Chronic schizophrenia is a severe, long-lasting disability characterized by social withdrawal, lack of motivation, depression, and blunted feelings with moderate versions of acute symptoms such as delusions and thought disorder.

Psychiatrists divide the symptoms of schizophrenia into "positive" and "negative" categories, though the terms really don’t fit the symptoms. Positive symptoms are ones that should not be present and negative symptoms are those symptoms that should be present in a “normal” mind, but are absent in a schizophrenic.

“Positive” symptoms include:

§  Hallucinations - hearing voices, seeing nonexistent things, and experiencing sensations, such as burning, that has no source. Auditory hallucinations are most common.

§  Delusions - bizarre thoughts that have no basis in reality.

§  Thought disorder - apparent from a person's fragmented, disconnected and sometimes nonsensical speech. “Racing thoughts” are common.

§  Altered sense of self – the blurring of the person's feeling of who he or she is. He or she may feel weightless or not be able to distinguish where their body ends and the outside world begins.

“Negative” symptoms include:

§  Lack of motivation – lack of energy or interest in life that is often confused with laziness. Life for a schizophrenic person can be devoid of interests or activities. This is also called extreme apathy.

§  Blunted emotional expression - a flattening of the emotions. The symptoms also include lack of body and facial expression of emotions. The person may be very emotional but unable to effectively express their emotions to others.

§  Social withdrawal – Schizophrenics can withdrawal from social situations in an attempt to deal with their own overwhelming emotions or their inability to deal with other’s emotions at the same time.

Some mental disorders, like schizophrenia, are not curable; through the use of anti-psychotic medication and psychotherapy, the positive symptoms of schizophrenia can usually be controlled. Psychotherapy and self-help groups can assist people who have schizophrenia learn to develop social skills, cope with stress, identify early warning signs of relapse, and prolong periods of remission. Full recovery may occur, and in some cases people get better and go into remission. This remission usually comes within the first two years and is rare after having the disease for five years.

Many more people who have schizophrenia can work, live and enjoy life with their family and friends if they receive continuous, appropriate treatment. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, treatment of schizophrenia is successful in 60 percent of patients.

For more information on schizophrenia call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.


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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.