Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, behaves, expresses emotions and perceives reality. It affects around 20 million people worldwide, so it is not as common as other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety disorder. However, it is perhaps the most chronic and disabling one. It is quite evident when people are suffering from schizophrenia, as they act very abnormally and differently. This is why schizophrenics often have problems doing well in society, school, work or in their personal relationships, as they appear to have lost touch with reality and do not know how to behave like a normal, sociable people. Hence, schizophrenia is associated with considerable disability and greatly affects educational and occupational performance.
Till today, the exact causes of schizophrenia are still unknown. Research conducted on the topic suggests that it may be a combination of genetic, physical, psychological and environmental factors that cause it. So the causes may range from genetic inheritance, chemical imbalances in the brain, and the use of certain drugs and medication, to external environmental factors like trauma, excessive stress, etc.
As mentioned before, schizophrenia causes a wide range of symptoms on a mental, behavioural and emotional level. These symptoms may vary in number and degree from one schizophrenic to another, but there are some commonly seen symptoms among all of them;
- Hallucinations – Seeing or hearing things in their heads, which are not there in reality. A hallucinating schizophrenic may see or hear something that do not exist, but they fully believe that it is a real experience.
- Delusions – These are false or fictitious beliefs that schizophrenics have which are not real. Such delusions could be that someone is constantly following them when no one is, or delusions of grandeur where the schizophrenic feels as if he/she is some great, famous person.
- Disorganized Thinking (Speech) – This means that schizophrenics lack proper communication skills and do not have much interactive capability. They may only half answer questions or not respond at all, and their speech might be meaningless and incomprehensible.
- Disorganized Motor Behavior – Even their body movements and postures are often abnormal. The behavior may be childlike and unpredictable, and often is not focused on performing any task. They may even require help to perform daily life functions like brushing teeth, eating, etc.
- Negative Symptoms – This generally refers to their lack of ability to function like a normal human being. They may lack hygiene and care for themselves. They may also lack emotion, or express emotions at wrong times, like showing happiness at a funeral.
Since schizophrenia is chronic, even treatment for it is lifelong. Unfortunately, schizophrenia cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Treatment can help the afflicted person manage the symptoms of the illness and avoid hospitalization. There is no blanket treatment plan and doctors will often tailor it to suit the individual persons. The cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment is medication. Schizophrenics will most commonly be given antipsychotic drugs to keep control of the mental disabilities and allow the person to think and function somewhat normally. Along with this, even psychosocial support from family members and in the form of counselling can help a person develop coping skills in life. This is especially important because schizophrenics often have suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and having a social support system helps them in averting these thoughts and gives them hope.
It is important to highlight here that there is a stigma, and discrimination against people with schizophrenia is common nowadays. They are also often abandoned by their families or relatives thinking that they are beyond saving. We must learn as a society that such people are not as fortunate as us, and suffer from inflictions that we cannot even imagine. Society must be educated on the fact that they are not dangerous or scary people, and must be encouraged to seek help. Hence, we must do all we can to support schizophrenics and provide them with the best help we can.