So, schizophrenia. It’s a complicated disorder. Therefore, following the origin of the word “schizophrenia” – where “schizo” means “split”, I’m going to split this “The Brain, The Body, The Behaviour” post into two parts.
It’s going to be a bit of a different structure compared to my other two posts on depression and anxiety, but will still cover the same content. This first part is going to be an overview of schizophrenia – I’m going to talk about what it is, what the symptoms are (the behaviours), physical problems those with schizphrenia may suffer from (the body) and I’m going to debunk a few myths about schizophrenia.
Then in the second part I’m going to talk about the brain of an individual with schizophrenia – or, at least, i’m going to try, as it’s not exactly simple, and like most areas of psychology there is no single answer to the biological insight of schizophrenia, and is probably going to be one of the most complex blog posts I ever have and ever will compose… But i’ll try my best. So, onto the first part:
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a long term mental health problem. This means that though individuals can receive treatment, there is no permanent cure. 1 in 100 people suffer from individual, so 1% of the population. There are two specific phases of schizophrenia:
- Prodromal phase: This is the early stage of onset, where an individuals sleep patterns, emotions, communication methods, levels of motivation and their ability to think all changes.
- Acute episode: This is where the individual may become unwell for a period of time. They can feel panic, anger and depression, especially if it is their first episode as it may be scary for them. Particularly so if they have not been diagnosed yet.
The symptoms of schizophrenia are split into positive and negative symptoms:
- Positive symptoms: This is where behaviours are “added onto” an individuals “normal” or previous behaviour
- Hallucinations; auditory (sounds), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell) and visual.
- Delusions; a belief that they can maintain by a rational argument despite it clearly not being true
- Disorganised thinking; cannot form logical or coherent thoughts. Usually expressed or identified by their disorganised and hard-to-follow speech.
- Negative symptoms: This is where the individual experiences deficits of their “normal” or previous behaviours
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of sleep
- Lack of hygiene
- Loss of sex drive
- Reduced emotions
- Poverty of speech
- Individuals may also experience cognitive symptoms and these can generally fall under the categories of negative or positive symptoms, but sometime are described seperately:
- Lack of attention
- Poor memory including; long term memory, working memory, episodic memory, semantic processing and learning.
Due to their symptoms, it has been said that those with schizphrenia are more likely to develop physical health problems. They are less likely to look after themselves, including their hygiene and diet. They are more likely to smoke, as they may use it as a stress-relief.
The long term use of antipsychotic drugs is linked to weight gain. Now due to schizophrenia being a long term mental health problem, those with schizophrenia cannot usually avoid using these drugs. This weight gain can then lead to cardiovascular disease and other diseases such as diabetes.
Schizphrenia myths: debunked
This is my favourite part about talking about schizophrenia; proving all the common and well-known myths, wrong.
#1 – Schizophrenia makes people violent
No. Schizophrenia does not make everyone with the illness violent. The delusions and hallucinations some individuals experience may cause them to be violent. But this is less than 1% of those with schizophrenia. Besides, they are more likely to do harm to themselves than other people. People can be violent without having schizophrenia. The media just loves to find an excuse for that violence, and unfortunately if an individual has schizophrenia that will almost definitely be blamed. Fictional characters also don’t help when it comes to the facts of schizophrenia – The Shining by Stephen King, for example. Jack Torrance, the main character, is regularly pinpointed as a schizophrenic due to his axe-wielding and murderous behaviour. However, if you actually read the book, no where does King say that Jack is schizophrenic. There is more evidence saying that he is possessed than mentally ill. Seriously, read the book and find out for yourself (it’s good, and better than the film.)
#2 – Schizophrenia means that someone has a split personality
Also, no. To be fair, the word “schizophrenia” is probably to blame for this. It comes from greek, and “schizo” means split and “phrenia” means mind. So, you may just claim ignorance if you thought schizophrenia means split personality. In actual fact multiple personality disorder is closer to split personality than schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia always maintain the same personality, it’s just their behaviour changes due to their symptoms. The media can also take some of the blame for this too. As can fictional characters. The strange case of Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Stevenson has been mistaken for a fictional novel about schizophrenia since it was written, when in actual fact it is more likely a fictional novel about multiple personality disorder. Despite this, people should really stop believing that fictional demonstrations of mental illnesses are true and do the research for themselves.
#3 – Schizophrenic patients all need to be admitted to hospital to recieve treatment
Many individuals with schizophrenia are admitted to hospital for treatment, yes. But this is usually if they are at risk of hurting themselves, or are unable to manage their symptoms at the present time. Like any mental health problem, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and do not have to be strapped to a hospital bed to keep themselves safe. They can live in residential care homes, low secure hospitals, in the community and in their own homes – whatever helps them to reach the point of being able to manage their symptoms in order to gain a good quality of life. It is down to the individual and their case.
#4– Individuals with schizophrenia cannot work
This relates to the point above. Some individuals with schizophrenia do not work, but this may be because they are going through an acute episode, or they have just been diagnosed, or they need 24 hour care. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia do make it very hard for individuals to work and live life like they did before diagnosis. However many live a good quality of life, are in full time work, and are part of a family. It all depends on the individual themselves and their symptoms and their current capability of managing them.
#5 – Schizophrenia is a form of mental retardation
This simply isn’t true. Yes, many individuals with schizophrenia may suffer with their attenion span, ability to learn and communication skills. But it does not mean that they don’t have intelligence, they just struggle sometimes to express this. There are even links between schizophrenia and creative intelligence.
#6 – Schizophrenia cannot be treated
Unfortunately, schizophrenia cannot be cured. But this is different from treatment, and the myth that schizophrenia cannot be treated is very damaging to those who suffer from it. It may even stop those who may think they have schizophrenia from going to seek help as they may think there is no point. Schizophrenia can be treated and managed, with a combination of several different types of treatment; anti-psychotic medication, anti-depressants, life style changes, family therapy, CBT. Just like any other mental or physical illness, symptoms can be managed.
Hopefully this post has given you an overview of schizophrenia and debunked a few myths you may have heard and perhaps believed about schizophrenia. Part 2 of “The Brain, The Body, The Behaviour – Schizophrenia” will be up in the next couple of days and will focus on what is going on inside the brain, and will reflect the symptoms we have looked at here, and hopefully help further your understanding of schizophrenia and decrease the stigma.