Psychotic Disorders

Understanding Schizophrenia

8 August 2022  |   4 min read

This article was originally published on My Mental Health on 2 December 2020.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental illness and with all mental illnesses, it affects the person’s behaviour, thoughts or emotions. It can affect anyone in any culture globally and usually first appears during late adolescence or early adulthood.

Its specific causes are unknown but contributing factors are believed to include genetic predisposition, abnormalities in brain chemistry and stressful environmental conditions. The person who does not receive appropriate treatment may have much more difficulty engaging in work, leisure activities, interpersonal relationships and self-care.

What Are The Common Symptoms?

  • Hallucinations

    Distortion in the five senses, namely touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste

  • Delusions

    Firmly held false beliefs not shared by others, e.g. believing that other people are reading their minds or conspiring to harm them

  • Negative symptoms

    Disruptions to normal emotions and behaviours, e.g. lack of desire to engage in activity or lack of expression and emotion

  • Disorganised thought and behavior

    Disorganized or incoherent speech, strange mannerisms

What Is The Usual Course?

  • Prodromal phase

    People with schizophrenia may gradually lose interest in their usual activities and withdraw from social contact. They may also become intensely preoccupied with certain topics or have trouble concentrating, neglecting their appearance and hygiene

  • Active phase

    Hallucinations and delusions become prominent and cause significant distress and dysfunction. This phase is often the most frightening to the person with schizophrenia and to others

  • Residual phase

    As treatment takes effect, acute symptoms start to diminish. After an active phase, persons with schizophrenia may have more negative symptoms such as avolition: which may be misinterpreted by others as being lazy, lack of emotion and social withdrawal

Common Misconceptions

Schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood illness. As a result, people with schizophrenia are often discriminated against. This can greatly discourage persons with schizophrenia to seek help, thus lengthening unnecessarily suffering on the individual and his/her families.

Myth: Schizophrenia refers to a “split personality” or multiple personalities.

Fact: Schizophrenia came from the Greek words meaning “split” and “mind”, where persons with schizophrenia have difficulties differentiating what’s real or not when they are unwell. It is different from “split personality” which is known as Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Myth: Schizophrenia is a rare condition.

Fact: Schizophrenia is not rare; it affects about 1% of the population globally.

Myth: People with schizophrenia are dangerous.

Fact: Most people with schizophrenia are not violent or dangerous to others.

Myth: People with schizophrenia cannot be helped.

Fact: On the contrary, persons with schizophrenia can recover and resume meaningful roles within their families and communities.

What Treatments Are Available?

While the term “recovery” means different things to different people, it is now more commonly viewed as a process, rather than an outcome (e.g. permanent elimination of symptoms). In other words, people are in recovery when they are striving to live a meaningful and satisfying life of their choice, in spite of the limitations of the illness.

  • Medication

    The use of antipsychotic medications aims to eliminate the symptoms of the illness

  • Psycho-social treatment

    Psycho-social rehabilitation such as counselling, social and vocational training focuses on empowering and equipping people with schizophrenia to achieve their goals in life

  • “Personal medicine”

    “Personal medicine” is not referring to the medication that one should be taking, but the activities that one can do to promote wellness.

Republished with permission from Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)

Original source: https://www.samhealth.org.sg/understanding-mental-health/what-is-mental-illness/schizophrenia

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