Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects about one out of every hundred people. There are many popular myths and misunderstandings about it. That makes it all the more important to get the facts straight. This blog is for anyone who has Schizophrenia or who has a friend or relative with Schizophrenia. Here you will find:
What it is like to have Schizophrenia
What may cause Schizophrenia
What can be done
What are the common symptoms?
Schizophrenia affects primarily the thinking process, which influences the development of inappropriate feelings and actions. Among the common symptoms are:
I. POSITIVE SYMPTOMS
- Positive symptoms are the unusual experiences that are part of Schizophrenia. Positive symptoms relate to the senses, particularly suspiciousness and strange thoughts, hallucinations like "hearing voices" and disorganized speech or behavior. They sometimes happen in other severe mental illnesses.
- Hallucinations are false, unrealistic sensory perception. They are therefore described as experiences affecting the senses – like auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, like hearing voices, smelling foul odors, etc. Thus, hallucination happens when the person hears, smells, feel, or see something when there isn’t anything, or anybody actually there to hear, smell, feel, or see. In Schizophrenia, the most common hallucination is hearing voices. The voices can sound so real that a person becomes convinced they are truly coming from outside of him. The voices are not imaginary, but they are created by one’s own mind. The brain mistakes one’s own thoughts for real experiences happening outside of the person.
- Delusions are a particular kind of unusual belief. These are false, unrealistic beliefs, like believing that someone is trying to harm you or is conspiring against the person (paranoia), or that he is a famous person or have special powers (grandiose).
- Delusions can be unusual because it is uncommon or unknown in ones culture. It can be unusual because the person believes it very strongly without having any evidence to support it. Either way, other people find that they can’t really discuss it with the person with Schizophrenia. If someone asks him to explain why he has come to believe this, he can’t say why or his reasons don’t make sense to them – he “just knows.”
- People often talk about “paranoid” delusions. “Paranoia” is just another word for feeling persecuted or harassed. The person may have ideas of persecution that, at first sight, seem quite reasonable. For example, he may start to believe his partner is unfaithful, even though other people can see nothing to suggest that this is true. On the other hand, he may have ideas that are more unusual, like feeling that someone or the government is spying on him. He may believe that he is being harassed by the neighbors who are using special rays, or that he is God’s special messenger. Delusions of persecution can be especially upsetting for one’s family, if the person sees them as his persecutors.
3. Disordered, Muddled, Jumbled, Loose Thinking (or “Thought Disorder”)
- The person may find that it is becoming harder to think clearly – he can’t understand what another person says. If he is at college, he will find it difficult or impossible to keep up with class discussions. If he is at a meeting at work, he just can’t keep his mind on the topic. It seems there is a lot going on in his head.
4. Delusion of Control or Feelings of Being Controlled
- These are feelings that someone or something is controlling the person’s thinking or behavior. When this happens, it can feel as though someone is taking thoughts out of the person’s mind, or putting their thoughts into it. It can feel as though someone is trying to take over the person or controlling him – this is extremely unpleasant and disturbing. He may feel as though his body is being taken over, or that he is being controlled like a puppet or a robot. It may get to the point where his whole personality seems under the influence of an alien force or spirit. This is a terrifying experience, which the person explains in different ways. In ‘high-tech’ societies, the person may tend to blame radio, television, or laser beams, or believe someone has installed a computer chip in his brain. In traditional and religious communities, the person may blame witchcraft, angry spirits, God, or the devil.
II. NEGATIVE SYMPTOMS
- Negative symptoms are less obvious than positive symptoms. Negative symptoms are difficult to explain to others and affect socialization. The individual may withdraw from people, feel weak and lazy, and have difficulty responding to feelings. These may be characterized by the following:
o Marked apathy, loss of drive, loss or reduced energy to do things. The person’s interest in life, energy, emotions, and ‘get-up-and-go’ just seem to drain away. He may not bother to get up or go out of the house. It can be difficult to wash or tidy up, or to keep his clothes clean.
o Refusal to talk (catatonia) or reduced speech. The person may feel that he has nothing to say.
o Blunting of emotion. It’s more difficult to feel excited or enthusiastic about anything.
o Social withdrawal, avoidance of people (even family members) and social interaction at home, at work or in the neighborhood. The person may feel uncomfortable with people.
- Other people can find it hard to understand that negative symptoms are actually symptoms, and that the person is not just being lazy. This can be upsetting, both for the family and for someone with Schizophrenia. The family can feel that he just needs to pull himself together – he can’t explain that he can’t.
III. COGNITIVE SYMPTOMS
- Cognitive symptoms are problems with learning and concentration. Cognitive symptoms may involve impaired memory or abstract thinking, language disturbance, and inattention. There may be severe:
o Difficulty in concentrating on things like finishing or understanding an article in the newspaper or book or watching a TV program to the end. At work he can’t seem to concentrate on his job.
o Difficulty in learning new information like directions or procedures.
o Difficulty in getting thoughts together logically and coherently. Trouble explaining.
IV. DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS
- Depressive symptoms pertain to the person's moods and may manifest in suicidal thoughts, guilt feelings or anxiety. Depressive symptoms may also be characterized by insomnia or hyperinsomnia.
Does everyone with Schizophrenia have all these symptoms?
No. Someone can hear voices and have negative symptoms, but may not have thought disorder. Some people with delusional ideas seem to have very few negative symptoms or depressive symptoms. If someone has mainly thought disorder and negative symptoms, the problem may not be recognized for years.
Next: Schizophrenia Causes