What is Schizophrenia actually?
Schizophrenia is a severe and sometimes disabling mental disorder, that can affect all aspects of life, including perceptions, thought, judgment, mood and personality.
There are many often quite different symptoms of schizophrenia, and not all people with schizophrenia suffer the same symptoms.
But the disorder is characterized by a disintegration in the thought processes of people who suffer from it. Schizophrenia can drastically change the way a person thinks, acts and responds to other people and the world around them.
“I remember that there was this male voice when it started. It was always something with me being too fat, that I was ugly, that I should make sure to eat less. Make me nicer, behave nicer. All such negative things. And sometimes the voice was so loud that I couldn’t hear what people around me were saying.” ~ Mary
Medical science remains uncertain of the causes of the disorder, and so far there are no known cures. However, effective treatment of the symptoms allow an increasing number of people with schizophrenia to enjoy productive and well-adjusted lives.
Sub-pages about Schizophrenia:
Common Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Common symptoms include auditory and visual hallucinations – such as “hearing voices” that no one else hears or seeing things (in ways) that no one else sees them – and bizarre or paranoid delusions.
One very descriptive example of this is Louis William Wain was born on 5 August 1860 in Clerkenwell in London, the first son of a textile trader and embroiderer. As an adult Wain teached for a while, but soon made a living as a freelance illustrator, one who was particularly fond of cats.
Here are 6 paintings of cats by Louis Wain all painted between 1886 and 1939 with an increasing degree of abstractecness, attributed by some psychologists to Wain suffering from schizophrenia:
In any case, people with schizophrenia can misunderstand the actions of other people and often develop elaborate fears of persecution. They may become terrified, for instance, that other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or actions, or plotting to harm them. These terrifying fears can cause a schizophrenia sufferer to become withdrawn or distressed.
What is Schizophrenia?
Other common schizophrenia symptoms are disorganized speech and thinking, and changes in the way a person with schizophrenia responds emotionally to other people. As a result the condition can cause significant problems in social situations. People with schizophrenia may not make sense when they speak, or may sit for hours without moving or talking.
The families of schizophrenia sufferers, especially, can be badly affected by the condition. In many cases the symptoms of schizophrenia make it difficult for people who have the disorder to make friends, keep a job, or take care of themselves – and so they may have only their families to turn to for help. In some cases the symptoms of schizophrenia are so severe that they damage family relationships.
See this uplifting video that shows interviews with patients living with schizophrenia, and mental health professionals who treat them. It shows how people diagnosed with schizophrenia can live normal lives.
Onset Of Schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia usually start in the late teenage years. The disorder affects men and women in equal numbers, but men tend to experience the symptoms at an earlier age. Children and younger teenagers may also develop symptoms of childhood schizophrenia, but this is rare.
The symptoms of schizophrenia may arise suddenly or gradually. Also, they may appear for just a brief period of time and then go away again – or they may become permanent.
While an early diagnosis of schizophrenia is preferable, schizophrenia can be difficult to diagnose in teenagers because the first signs of the disorder often include problems with friends and at school, irritability, sleep problems and changes in mood – which are also common behaviors among many teenagers who do not have schizophrenia.
Examination by experts is definitely needed and caution in making a diagnosis is recommended.
Living With Schizophrenia
Thanks to better understanding of the condition and new medications, most schizophrenia symptoms can now be controlled, and increasing numbers of people with schizophrenia enjoy rewarding, creative, and productive lives with their families, friends and work colleagues.
“If I get stressed, I get sick again, and it’s just something I need to know. I must remember to say no, I must remember to take care of myself.” ~ Mary
Current treatments for schizophrenia usually require medication, often for several months or years. Some people only suffer one episode of schizophrenia in their lives, while for others it is a recurring condition that can require long periods of schizophrenia medication and sometimes hospital care.
Ongoing research into the causes and symptoms of schizophrenia and the development of new medical techniques offers the hope of better treatment for the illness in the future – and perhaps the eventual development of cures for the disorder.
Schizophrenia in Ancient History
Schizophrenia is thought to affect about one percent of the modern human population, and researchers believe it has been common throughout human history. Some recent research suggests schizophrenia may be an artifact of the evolved capacity of the human brain for processing thoughts and language, and so it may well date from the very origins of modern mankind.
The earliest known descriptions of what may be schizophrenia symptoms are found in the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian document written in about the 16th Century BCE, and thought to have been copied from texts that may have been as much as 2000 years older. The papyrus is one of the oldest medical texts in the world, and the most important surviving record of ancient Egyptian medical knowledge. One chapter, the Book of Hearts, describes several recognizable mental disorders, including depression, dementia, and disturbed thoughts.
At the time, Egyptian physicians believed these were the result of disorders of the heart – thought to be the anatomical location of the mind – and caused by the gods, malign spirits, or human magic. Yet in contrast to many other early societies, who often feared and ostracized the victims of mental disorders, the ancient Egyptian medics advocated tender care and treatment for sufferers:
The wise Amenemope says, ‘Do not mock at the blind; do not scoff at dwarfs; do not injure the lame; do not sneer at a man who is in the hand of God [of unsound mind]. A suffering person is not to be left without help: Go in to him, and do not abandon him.’
Schizophrenia before the Age of Science
There is no evidence that ancient Greek or Roman physicians had identified a condition that would match a modern diagnosis of schizophrenia, although they did note conditions that are recognizable now as depression and mania.
From the classical period until at least the 18th Century, mental disorders were usually thought to be result of a curse by the gods, or possession by evil spirits and demons. The appropriate treatment was thought to be to lift the curse, or exorcise the demons, by such means as prayers, magical incantations, blood-letting, and even drilling holes in a patients skull.
It is thought likely that many people with mental disorders were accused of consorting with the Devil during the witchcraft scares of the European Middle Ages – and that many were tortured and killed by frightened mobs and religious officials.
The Case of James Tilly Matthews
The earliest detailed description of what is thought to be a case schizophrenia was made in 1797. A London merchant named James Tilly Matthews had been committed to the Bethlem psychiatric hospital in the city after he developed paranoid delusions and publicly accused several notable politicians of treason and plotting to kill him. John Haslam, a physician at Bethlem hospital (known as “Bedlam”) wrote a detailed account of Matthews’ behavior and hallucinatory experiences, in an effort to establish that Matthews’ delusions made him a danger to the public.
French Researchers and Dementia Precox
Around the same time the French physician Phillipe Pinel (drawing of Pinel can be seen to the right), known as “the father of modern psychiatry,” published detailed reports of mental disturbances among patients at hospitals inFrancethat that are now thought to describe schizophrenia. Pinel had been inspired to learn more about mental disorders by the suicide of a personal friend, who had suffered “nervous melancholy” that had “degenerated into mania” before taking his life.
In 1853 the pioneering French psychiatrist Bénédict Morel described a schizophrenia-like affliction of teenagers and young adults that he called démence précoce (“early dementia” in French). The Latin form of the same term, dementia praecox, was used in 1891 by the German neurologist and psychiatrist Arnold Pick, to describe disorders that are now classed as hebrephrenia – a subtype of schizophrenia, also known as disorganized schizophrenia.
Bleuler’s “Shattered Minds”
The modern term schizophrenia was coined in 1908 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (see small photo from 1900 to the right), who took it from the the Greek words skhizein, “to split,” and phren, “mind” – to mean a “split” or “shattered mind.”
Bleuler’s term referred to the what he saw as a separation of personality, reason, memory, and perception in the minds of people who suffered from the disorder. His intention was to distinguish the disorder of schizophrenia from its association with dementia, now known as Alzheimer’s disease – for Blueler had noted that, unlike people who suffered from dementia (Alzheimer’s), the condition of many people diagnosed with dementia praecox could improve over time.
Bleuler’s choice of words has had the unfortunate consequence of reinforcing a common misconception about schizophrenia – that people with the disorder have a “split personality” in the manner described in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” an 1886 novel by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.
The first recorded misuse of the term “schizophrenia” was in a 1939 play by the American poet T. S. Elliot, “The Family Reunion”, in which the main character suffers from a split personality disorder.
Recent Developments in Schizophrenia Research
Throughout the 20th Century psychiatrists refined the definition of schizophrenia, but without being able to determine its exact causes.
Different types of schizophrenia are now identified based on factors such as the relative prominence of positive and negative symptoms, and the progression of the disorder in terms of the type and severity of the symptoms. Certain types of schizophrenia are found to occur along with other mental disorders.
Research over the last two decades offers new hope in determining the causes of schizophrenia, potential new treatments, and ultimately perhaps even a cure. There is now a great deal of evidence that schizophrenia is a biological disease of the brain, rather than the result of an imbalance of emotions or a “shattered mind,” as was once thought. Modern magnetic resonance images (MRI scans – an MRI scanner can be seen on the photo to the right) can now show abnormal changes and tissue damage in the structure of the living brains of people affected by schizophrenia.
Famous People With Schizophrenia
There are relatively few famous people with schizophrenia because the disorder often strikes people when they are young – usually between the ages of 17 to 28 – and usually before they have a chance to become famous for achievements in their lives and careers.
Among the most famous people with schizophrenia is the American mathematician John Forbes Nash (photo of Nash from 2006 can be seen to the right), who shared a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on game theory, which is used in the fields of market economics, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary biology.
Nash was the subject of an award-winning biography, “A Beautiful Mind”, and the Oscar-winning movie of the same name (starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly and more). The book and movie described his work at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his struggles with the onset of schizophrenia.
Famous Musicians with Schizophrenia
Several noted musicians and stage stars have suffered from schizophrenia, including the celebrated American jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, and Syd Barrett, one of the founders of the rock group Pink Floyd.
One of California’s most famous sons, Beach Boys singer and songwriter Brian Wilson, has spoken publicly of his struggle with schizo-affective disorder, a variant of schizophrenia.
The early jazz pioneer Charles “Buddy” Bolden (no. 2 from the left in the old photo above of the Bolden Band, ca. 1900) was hospitalized with “dementia praecox” in 1906, after his music career had peaked in the first years of the 20th Century. Bolden is widely credited with starting the jazz movement, and a British psychiatrist has suggested that the improvisational form of music that Bolden developed from ragtime was influenced by his schizophrenia – Bolden could not read music because his disorder had impaired his motor functions, and so he had to improvise when he played the cornet.
Famous Sportspeople and Artists with Schizophrenia
The list of famous people with schizophrenia also includes several sportsmen, including the popular Scottish footballer Andy Goram and the American football star Lionel Aldridge, a key defensive player for the Green Bay Packers when the team won two Superbowl championships in the 1960s.
The American “Beat Generation” author Jack Kerouac was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the early 20th Century French playwright, poet and actor Antonin Artuad is thought to have suffered from the disorder.
The famed Russian ballet dancer Vaclac Nijinsky is also thought to have had schizophrenia. He gave his final performance in 1919, and thereafter spent years in and out of mental hospitals until his death in 1950.
Did Vincent van Gogh Have Schizophrenia?
Several writers have suggested a diagnosis of schizophrenia for the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, who killed himself in 1890 after years of suffering from mental problems. However, many researchers have countered that Van Gogh’s documented symptoms do not match the fundamental symptoms of schizophrenia, and that he may have suffered instead from what is now known as bipolar disorder, perhaps exacerbated by his overindulgence in absinthe, a powerful liquor.
There is also speculation that Van Gogh’s doctor may have treated him for mania or epilepsy with the drug digitalis, an extract of the foxglove plant that was used as a sedative and an anti-convulsant in the 19th Century.
Curiously, one of the side effects of digitalis treatments is a visual disturbance called xanthopsia, which makes everything look as if seen through a yellow filter. Many of Van Gogh most famous art works have a exaggerated yellow cast – including Sunflowers (as seen below) and The Starry Night, which was based on the view from the window of his room at a sanitarium in the French city of Arles.
Famous Historical Figures with Schizophrenia
Modern researchers have speculated that certain historic figures may have exhibited signs of schizophrenia, based on descriptions of their behavior made at the time. They include Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of the 16th US President Abraham Lincoln, who suffered intense depression and headaches throughout her life, and was committed to a mental asylum for several months after her husband’s assassination in 1865.
The 18 Century Danish King Christian VII suffered severe mental disturbances at periods throughout his life, including paranoia, hallucinations and self-mutilation – symptoms that would now be seen as likely signs of schizophrenia.
Did Joan of Arc have Schizophrenia?
The 15th Century French heroine and Roman Catholic saint Joan of Arc (photo of statue of her to the right), who led the French army to several important victories in the Hundred Years War, claimed that she had received visions from God and visitations from several Christian saints, who instructed her to free her homeland from English rule.
Joan was captured in 1430 after a failed attack near the northern city of Compiègne, put on trial by the English, and executed on the grounds of heresy.
Some historians have suggested that Joan’s visions may have been a symptom of schizophrenia or another mental disorder. But other historians have noted there is no record that Joan ever displayed any other symptoms commonly associated with schizophrenia. The English judges at her trial also remarked on Joan’s astute intellect and verbal skill, indicating there was no sign of the rational and vocal deterioration that often accompanies schizophrenia.
Positive and Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia affects people in different ways and not everyone will experience the same symptoms. A person may also have schizophrenia but exhibit no symptoms until they suffer an acute episode of the disorder. Generally the symptoms of schizophrenia are grouped into two classes: positive and negative symptoms.
Positive symptoms of of schizophrenia are behaviors not seen in healthy people, such as hallucinations and delusions. They reflect a positive distortion in normal behavior, and are also referred to as “psychotic” symptoms.
People with positive symptoms of schizophrenia may be said to “lose touch” with reality. Sometimes positive schizophrenia symptoms are severe, and at other times they may be barely noticeable.
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia are characterized by a decreased degree of normal behavior, such as apathy or a lack of emotional response. They reflect a loss of normal functioning, and so are also called “deficit” symptoms.
Negative schizophrenia symptoms can be harder to recognize than positive symptoms, and they may be mistaken for depression or other mental disorders. People with negative symptoms of schizophrenia may need help with everyday tasks, such as keeping themselves clean or feeding themselves.
Positive Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Positive symptoms of schizophrenia include:
These are things that a person sees, hears or feels that are not real. The most common type of schizophrenic hallucination is “hearing voices” that no-one else can hear, and when no-one nearby is speaking. The voices may seem to talk to the person about their behavior, or order a person to do things.
In some cases people with schizophrenia may hear several different voices that talk to each other. Other types of hallucinations include seeing people or things that are not there, smelling odors that no-one else can smell, or feeling the touch of invisible hands when no-one else is near.
“When I left home it started to get really bad with the voices I heard. I was afraid to stay alone. Then I started smoking weed at night and to relax so I could sleep. And I also drank more than other teens.” ~ Mary
Delusions are false beliefs that persist regardless of evidence that the beliefs are not true or logical.
Sometimes people with schizophrenia can have delusions that are extreme or bizarre – such as a belief that the government is controlling their mind with radio waves – or they may seem relatively ordinary, such as a mistaken belief that they are being followed by the police.
Some people with delusions may think they are someone else, such as a famous figure from history (Napoleon Bonaparte is a common ‘choice’ – an oil painting from 1800 by Jaque-Louis David depicting Napoleon on his horse while crossing the Alps can be seen to the right).
Delusions of persecution – such as the false belief that other people are plotting harm, spreading lies, or spying – are called paranoid delusions.
Thought disorders are dysfunctional ways of thinking. Once common form is “disorganized thinking,” when a person has trouble organizing their thoughts or making rational decisions. Some people with thought disorders exhibit “thought blocking”, and may stop speaking in the middle of a sentence because they have lost the thought they were trying to express. Another type of thought disorder is using meaningless made-up words that psychiatrists call neologisms.
These are expressed as agitated body movements, and occasionally the complete absence of body movements – a condition known as catatonia.
A person with a movement disorder might repeat a certain body motion over and over again, such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands.
People with catatonia may stay immobile for hours or days, sometimes in bizarre fixed body positions, without responding to people around them and resisting any effort to be moved. Catatonia is now rare, but it was more common when there were few known treatments for schizophrenia and it is more common in under-developed countries where modern treatments are still not available.
Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia include:
Flat Affect: Affective flattening, also known as flat presentation, describes unchanging facial expressions, poor eye contact, speaking without emotion, and a general reduction in spontaneous movement. The term refers to the outward expression of emotion, and not the inner experience – which may in fact be tumultuous in many cases. A person with flat affect symptoms might stare for hours at nothing, or speak in a flat, toneless voice.
Withdrawal and Ambivalence: Also known as avolition, this negative symptom may be expressed as a lack of energy, apathy or interest in what were once routine activities – such as personal hygiene, making decisions, or carrying out tasks in the home, at work or at school.
Loss of Feeling: This symptom is also known as anhedonia, and is often characterized as an inability to experience pleasure, such as the normal appreciation of a beautiful landscape or interactions with their friends and family. People who suffer anhedonia often exhibit a lack of interest in social activities, and may fail to develop close personal relationships with other people.
Poverty of Speech. Also called alogia, this symptom is expressed as a marked reduction in the level of speech. People with alogia may be seem vague or repetitious when they speak, and may be slow to respond to question, or not respond at all.
Cognitive or Disorganised Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Many schizophrenia researchers recognize a third class of symptoms, called cognitive symptoms, which include problems with attention, concentration and memory. These may also be called Disorganised Symptoms.
Cognitive symptoms are not part of the criteria for a diagnosis of schizophrenia but they are often present in people who have the disorder.
Like negative symptoms, cognitive symptoms can be difficult to recognize, and may be mistaken for other mental disorders. They include poor “executive functioning”, the inability to understand information and make decisions based on that information; trouble paying attention or focusing on a task; and problems with recalling and using information immediately after learning it. Cognitive symptoms can cause great emotional distress and make it hard for a person to earn a living.
Types of Schizophrenia
Psychiatrists have identified several sub-types of schizophrenia, based on factors such as the relative prominence of certain symptoms and how the symptoms change as the disorder progresses.
People with paranoid schizophrenia suffer hallucinations and delusions, but their thinking and affect are relatively unimpaired.
People who suffer from disorganized schizophrenia exhibit marked disruptions in their behavior and speech. They often show a flattened or exaggerated affect, such as laughing at the wrong times. This type of schizophrenia is often first seen at a young age.
Catatonic schizophrenia (as mentioned above) is characterized by the main symptom of catatonia, where a person may sit immobile in a fixed position for long periods of time. People with catatonic schizophrenia may also exhibit strange mannerisms with their body and faces, such as grimacing, and they may repeat the words and actions of others.
Residual schizophrenia refers to the symptoms experienced by people who have suffered a significant psychotic episode but have since recovered, although they may still experience some hallucinations, delusions or negative symptoms.
The term undifferentiated schizophrenia is a kind of ‘catch-the-rest’ used to refer to people whose symptoms do not fit the other subtypes of the disorder.
In addition to the formal sub-types of schizophrenia, there are several schizophrenia-like disorders that are not considered full or “overt” schizophrenia. In many cases these disorders may develop into schizophrenia.
Schizophreniform disorder is used to describe cases where a person experiences the symptoms of schizophrenia for only a few weeks or months, and then recovers to lead a usually normal life without further symptoms. They symptoms may disappear as the result of medical treatment, but often the cause of their disappearance is unknown.
Schizo-affective disorder, which used to be known as psycho-mania describes people who exhibit some symptoms of schizophrenia along with mood disorders, such as recurring cycles of elevated and depressed moods.
People who suffer a delusional disorder exhibit persistent and irrational false beliefs without any other symptoms of schizophrenia.
The term brief psychotic disorder is used to describe the occurrence of positive symptoms like delusions or hallucinations during a relatively short period of time, from a day to a few weeks, but which never occur again.
A shared psychotic disorder, known in French as folie à deux – “madness shared by two” – is where delusional beliefs are transmitted between individuals. This can be the result of a dominant person forming a delusional belief and imposing it on another person, or when two people suffering independently from psychosis influence each other’s delusions so they become identical or similar. In some cases the delusion can spread to several people.
Causes of Schizophrenia
Despite important advances in scientific understanding over the last two decades, the causes of schizophrenia are still not fully known. Scientists now think schizophrenia is caused by several factors, including a person’s genetic inheritance and environmental causes during the early development of the brain.
Researchers have long known that schizophrenia tends to run in families, indicating a genetic link.
Schizophrenia usually occurs in about one percent of the population, but it occurs in ten percent of people who have a parent, brother or sister with the disorder. Studies of identical twins have found that the twin of a person with schizophrenia has a probability of developing the disorder between 40 and 65 percent. And yet, as the numbers indicate, a significant number of identical twins of schizophrenia sufferers never develop the disorder, which suggests that more than genetics are involved.
Genetic Causes of Schizophrenia
Scientists think several genes – possibly hundreds – are linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia, but that no single gene causes the disease by itself.
Genes suspected of contributing to the risk of schizophrenia include certain genes involved in the production of important chemicals in the brain, which can affect the development of higher brain functions such as speech and perception.
It is thought that imbalances in the important neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate – which govern the communications between brain cells – play a role in schizophrenia.
The brains of people with schizophrenia also differ in small ways from the brains of healthy people – they tend to have less gray matter, and some areas may have more or less activity than a ‘normal’ brain. The fluid-filled cavities at the center of the brain, called ventricles, are also larger in some people with schizophrenia.
Scientist now think schizophrenia develops as a result of interactions between genes and the environment.
Environmental factors suspected of contributing to schizophrenia include exposure to certain viruses before birth, malnutrition before birth, and problems during birth or the during the very early development of a child’s brain.
Some researchers think “faulty connections” made in the early development of the brain create conditions that do not show up as schizophrenia until a person reaches puberty, when the brain undergoes major chemical changes that could trigger schizophrenia symptoms.
Genome Schizophrenia Test
Some private companies offer “genome scans”, based on a saliva or tissue sample, that claim to be able to determine if a client is at risk of developing certain genetically-linked diseases, such as schizophrenia. But because the genetic basis of schizophrenia remains so uncertain, no such test can give an accurate reading of the real risk of developing a disorder like schizophrenia. It is not yet possible to use genetic information to predict who will develop the disorder.
Drug Abuse and Schizophrenia
Some people who abuse drugs exhibit may symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, and so people with the disorder may be mistaken for people affected by drugs.
Aditionally, people who have schizophrenia are much more likely to have drug or alcohol abuse problems than healthy people – but few researchers think that substance abuse actually causes schizophrenia. Substance abuse can make schizophrenia symptoms worse, though, and it can also make schizophrenia treatments less effective.
Schizophrenia and Smoking
The most common form of substance abuse among people with schizophrenia is smoking cigarettes – they are three times more likely to smoke than people in the general population. People with schizophrenia seem to be drawn to smoking, and some researchers believe there is a biological and chemical basis for this link.
Some studies suggest that smoking can make the anti-psychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia less effective – but people with schizophrenia often find it difficult to quit smoking, because nicotine withdrawal can cause their symptoms to get worse for a time.
Diagnosing Schizophrenia and Online Schizophrenia Tests
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is based on the behavior observed by clinical professionals and the reports of a patient about his or her experiences.
Often the first symptoms of schizophrenia can be overlooked because they appear similar to those of other mental health problems, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Doctors therefore use a series of tests to eliminate other potential causes of the symptoms. These can include a physical examination, blood tests, and brain scans. The doctors will also look for signs of confusion, clumsiness and problems with movement, which are often associated with schizophrenia. They may also administer psychological tests to better determine a patient’s state of mind.
Several websites offer an online schizophrenia tests in the form of a multiple-choice schizophrenia quiz, which aim to assess the likelihood that a person is suffering some symptoms of schizophrenia. These tests cannot establish if someone actually has schizophrenia; but a high score in such a test might indicate that a formal evaluation by a qualified medical professional should be carried out.
Anti-Psychotic Medications for Schizophrenia
Because the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown, schizophrenia treatment focuses on reducing or eliminating the symptoms of the disorder. Schizophrenia is rarely cured, but its symptoms can usually be managed.
The main treatment is medication with anti-psychotic drugs – usually in the form of pills taken each day, or as injections once or twice a month. Different people respond differently to different drugs, and sometimes a person and their doctor will have to try several medications and dosages before finding one that works.
After treatment with an effective anti-psychotic medication, schizophrenia symptoms like agitation and hallucinations usually go away in a few days. Symptoms like delusions are usually gone in a few weeks.
Although anti-psychotic medications are effective in treating many symptoms of schizophrenia, the nature of the disorder can conflict with the requirement to adhere to a prolonged regimen of medical treatment. People with schizophrenia may not like how their medications make them feel, or they may suffer from side effects from the drugs – and so some stop taking their medication, or only take it when they think they need to. Most relapses happen when a person with schizophrenia has stopped taking their medications for some reason.
Psycho-Social Treatments for Schizophrenia
Psycho-social treatments aim to help people whose schizophrenia symptoms are already established by anti-psychotic medications, by giving them a better understanding of their condition and techniques to adjust to living with schizophrenia.
These treatments help people with schizophrenia face the everyday challenges that can result from their disorder, such as difficulties in communication, establishing and keeping relationships, caring for themselves and finding a job. Patient who receive psycho-social treatment are also more likely to keep taking their medications, and so are less likely to suffer a relapse.
Electro-Convulsive Treatments (Electro-shock) for Schizophrenia
Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) for schizophrenia involves the application of an electric current through the brain of the patient. It used to be known as electro-shock therapy, and has gained a negative reputation with the public, thanks in part to its terrifying portrayals in books and movies. (A photo of a old time Siemens Konvulsator III for electroconvulsive therapy – an electroshock device / ECT machine – anno 1960 can be seen on the photo above to the right).
But modern ECT therapy is one of the most effective treatments for people who suffer the most extreme and debilitating forms of schizophrenia, such as catatonia, mania, and psychotic depression. Today the method is painless, and bears little resemblance to the undeveloped electro-shock treatments of the 1940s.
Patients are anesthetized before treatment, and after usually report an almost immediate improvement in their symptoms – a result that might otherwise take weeks to achieve using anti-psychotic drugs.
Alternative Treatments for Schizophrenia
Because many of the symptoms of schizophrenia are so severe, few qualified doctors advocate drug-free “alternative” or “natural” treatments for schizophrenia. However, several complimentary therapies have shown some positive results alongside anti-psychotic medications and psycho-social treatments for schizophrenia, including:
– supplementing the diet with vitamins C & E
– supplementing the diet with omega-3 fish oils and krill oil
– music therapy
– diverse kinds of psychotherapy
– animal-assisted therapy
– some types of Chinese herbal medicine
Some programs of alternative therapies are marketed in books and online as “natural schizophrenia treatments”. Unfortunately few of these have any genuine scientific basis for their claims, and none so far can show any confirmed results of scientific testing. For those interested in these things a mix between traditional treatment and ‘alternative’ treatment may be a good bet.
1. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2011/05/05/schizophrenia_discern/ Scientists Afflict Computers with Schizophrenia to Better Understand the Human Brain May 5, 2011
2. Magic and Medical Science in AncientEgypt, by Paul Ghalioungui (1963)
3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1430337.stm Mental illness ‘at the root of jazz’