Each year, almost 44 million Americans experience a mental disorder. In fact, mental illnesses are among the most common conditions affecting health today. The good news is that most people who have mental illnesses, even serious ones, can lead productive lives with proper treatment. Mental illnesses are some of the most misunderstood afflictions in today’s society. Too many people think of mental illness as a “weakness.” These are true illnesses and brain diseases. Mental illnesses are illnesses that affect the way a person thinks, acts, and feels. Like most illnesses, they have included biological, psychological, and environmental roots. The more severe mental illnesses are primarily diseases of the brain that cause distorted thinking, feelings, or behavior.
What is schizophrenia? Defining this illness is not easy. Schizophrenia is a extremely complex and serious mental illness. The illness interferes with the mental functioning of a person and makes the people who suffer from it at some point become out of touch with reality. This is an intricate disorder and psychologists are still not one hundred percent sure about this illness, there are still many things they need and want to figure out. Although there is no exact definition scholars and other knowledgeable people learn and still research this topic. “What We Now Know About Schizophrenia” written by Patrick O’Brien (1978) gives us the following definition of schizophrenia using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
Although a very scientific description, O’Brien tells us exactly what the condition consists of and even gives us a frame of time that the illness has to be present in order to be diagnosed.
The essential features of this group of disorders are: disorganization of a previous level of functioning, symptoms involving multiple psychological processes; the presence of certain psychotic features during the active phase of the illness; the absence of a full affective syndrome concurrent with or developing prior to the active phase of the illness, a tendency towards chronicity, and the disturbance is not explainable by any of the Organic Mental Disorders. … always involves at least one of the following: delusions, hallucinations, or certain characteristic types of thought disorder. No single clinical feature is unique to the condition or evident in every case or at every phase of the illness, except that by definition the diagnosis is not made unless the period of illness has persisted for at least six months (pgs. 33, 34).
There are five different subtypes of schizophrenia. The first one is paranoid schizophrenia in this type the person is very suspicious of others and has both delusions and hallucinations. Disorganized schizophrenia is the second type, which involves emotions, and moods that are not fitting to the situation at hand and verbal mumble or jumbled speech pattern. A case where the person is negative, isolated, and deeply withdrawn is known as catatonic schizophrenia. In residual schizophrenia the person does not currently have delusions, hallucinations, or speech patterns but they are lacking motivation in day-to-day living and interest in life. The last type is undifferentiated schizophrenia. This person meets the criteria for the general description of schizophrenia but they do not stand out in any of the other above subtypes of schizophrenia.
The main causes dealing with the condition of schizophrenia are environmental factors, bio chemical factors, genetic factors, and stressful events. Genetics are a strong influence on whether a family member might have this illness however it is absolutely not a decisive factor. “Individuals with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who has schizophrenia have a 10 percent chance of developing the disorder, as opposed to the 1 percent chance of the general population.” (Smith & Segal n.d. para 25) As said by O’Brien (1978) in the novel “What We Now Know About Schizophrenia” he tells us how “the role heredity plays…probably determines a predisposition to certain extraordinary ways of reacting and feeling. Why one person becomes psychotic and another doesn’t isn’t known at the present.” (p. 169) Although it is not one hundred percent proven today it is an aspect that is not be overlooked. Environmental factors include prenatal or infantile exposure to a viral infection, loss or separation from parents at an early age, and physical or sexual abuse when in childhood. Genetics along with environmental factors have “important implications for designing drugs that can act as environmental modulators and/or for identifying potentially preventive measures that can be undertaken.”(Picker 2005, p. 3 para. 3) Death of a loved one, growing up or living in poverty, frequent changes in jobs, schools, or relationships, are stressful factors that can increase the onset or affect the onset of the illness. Chemical imbalances in the brain play an important role as the cause of schizophrenia. The brain neurotransmitters either have a functioning problem in which they send too many or too little chemical messages. To identify a cause of schizophrenia is very tricky as described by Patrick O’Brien (1978) when he says “there are numerous competing hypotheses as to the cause of the psychoses of unknown origin…all of these theories are at present speculations which may or may not turn out to be implicated in the schizophrenic-type psychotic disorders in some individuals.”(p. 187)
Symptoms may vary in all the different subtypes as explained above but nevertheless there are two different kinds of symptoms in schizophrenia, positive or negative. Signs of this disease can be debilitating however they are usually treatable. There are four main positive symptoms disturbances of thought, hallucinations, illusions, and delusions. A delusion is an idea that is clearly and obviously untrue however an idea that becomes strong and firmly held in a schizophrenic’s brain. These bizarre fantasies can be delusions of persecution, reference, grandeur, or control. A person who is having a delusion may believe they are a person of high authority or royalty or in a high job position. A common delusion is also when a person believes someone is spying on or tracking you, or thinking aliens are invading or attacking. Hallucinations are misconceptions or exaggerations of sounds or sensations conceived as real. Auditory hallucinations are the most common. This is when someone perceives their inner voice or a voice inside their head as coming from an outside source. Experiences of heightened awareness are known as illusions. This includes thinking things are closer than they appear or hearing a familiar voice and it seems unrecognizable. A person whose speech is jumbled, one who changes the subject rapidly without reason, or cannot connect thought logically or put sentences together coherently has disturbances within their thoughts. Disturbances in thought can furthermore include inability to concentrate and someone who is easily distracted. “In contrast to the positive symptoms which refer to abnormal behaviors that are present, negative symptoms of schizophrenia refer to normal behaviors that are absent.”(Smith & Segal n.d. para 16) Negative Symptoms include lack of some or all of the following: expression, eye contact, enthusiasm or determination, motion and speech, self-care, or conversation tactics.
Schizophrenia is an incurable illness. However treatment can be very effective and helpful. It can be made so people with this disorder can lead high-functioning, normal lives. As Patrick O’Brien (1978) explains in his book “since most of the time intensive community support is not available, hospitalization then becomes the most helpful alternative” (p.244) in treating schizophrenia. Hospitals are usually used for immediate intervention. The most effective treatment involves a combination of medication, rehabilitation, and treatment of any other psychological problems. Psychotherapy can be a good start to treatment. This can help patients set small goals, lead to a good medication plan, and help make sure they are maintaining their drugs. Family therapy sessions are proven to reduce relapse rates. Medication works to fix the chemical imbalance in the brain. The drugs used in psychiatric treatment are minor tranquilizers, antidepressants, the antimanic drug lithium, and major tranquilizers.
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness and has an immense impact on individuals themselves and even furthermore their families. This can be a tragic disorder however when taken care of and treated properly people who have it can be fully functional. It takes great patience, understanding, and support to deal with this illness as well as to be involved with it and I commend anyone who lives with it themselves or has a family member affected by it.
- Chiko, B. (n.d.). An Introduction to Schizophrenia . Schizophrenia Information. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from www.schizophrenia.com/ami/index.html
- O’Brien, P. (1978). The Disordered Mind; What We Know About Schizophrenia. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc..
- Picker, J.. (2005, August 1). The Role of Genetic and Environmental Factors in the Development of Schizophrenia – Psychiatric Times. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved November18,2010,fromhttp://www.psychiatrictimes.com/schizophrenia/content/article/10168/52516
- Smith, M., & Segal, R. (n.d.). Understanding Schizophrenia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects. Helpguide.org: Understand, Prevent and Resolve Life’s Challenges. RetrievedNovember18,2010,fromhttp://helpguide.org/mental/schizophrenia_symptom.htm
- What is Schizophrenia?-An Illness Not Understood. (n.d.). mental-health-matters.com. Retrieved November 18, 2010, frommentalhealthmatters.com/schizophrenia/408-what-is-schizophrenia