You’ve heard of schizophrenia. You know it’s a mental disorder and that it can have a severe impact on a person’s life. You probably know that people with schizophrenia can have trouble communicating, have difficulty ‘fitting in’ or experience delusions or even hallucinations.
But how much do you really know about this mental illness?
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is what is known as a chronic mental illness. Chronic means something is long-lasting, and in the case of schizophrenia this means it’s a life-long condition.
Schizophrenia affects how you think; it affects your behaviour; and it can affect how you see, hear or experience reality.
About one in a hundred people have schizophrenia. For men it usually develops during late teenage years or early twenties. For women it’s during the late twenties.
Why are people with schizophrenia so stigmatised?
People with schizophrenia are some of the most marginalised in our community. That is to say, they’re often treated as outsiders.
One of the reasons for this is that schizophrenia is very misunderstood. There are many things you might believe about schizophrenia that are either untrue or are exaggerations.
Some families or communities even treat mental illness as a no-go topic. A mental condition like schizophrenia might be treated like something that causes shame or embarrassment. Treating someone with schizophrenia this way can make them feel even more isolated or lonely — and that can lead to further mental health problems (and even physical health problems).
Treating and managing schizophrenia
Schizophrenia left untreated can lead to further harm. In the Cairns region, for example, the rate of overnight hospitalisation for schizophrenia and delusions is between 235 and 239 per 100,000 — well above the national average.
If you’re hospitalised for a condition like schizophrenia, it often means that you hit a crisis point.
The good news is that schizophrenia is like many other mental disorders. You can manage it and there are recognised treatments. Most importantly, you can go on to lead a normal and good life.
What else didn’t you know about schizophrenia? Here are more facts about schizophrenia.
1) People with schizophrenia often have different symptoms
How you experience schizophrenia can be very different to how someone else experiences it. Even so, there are some common schizophrenia characteristics. People with schizophrenia may experience two or more of the following symptoms:
Delusions: meaning thoughts that are not plausible (e.g. thoughts that aren’t true, such as “people are spying on me” or “they’re out to get me”).
Hallucinations: experiencing things that others can’t hear, see, taste, touch or smell.
Disorganised thinking: not connecting your thoughts properly, or speaking in a way that’s hard for others to follow.
Abnormal movement: includes catatonia (this means abnormal movement, like being unable to move or constantly repeating the same movement).
Negative symptoms: reduced facial expressions, low motivation, inability to enjoy once-liked activities, and social withdrawal.
2) Schizophrenia is a form of psychosis
Psychosis is a term that health professionals use to describe several conditions, including schizophrenia. Psychosis is a condition that compromises your ability to do everyday, normal activities. Schizophrenia is a form of psychosis. However, having psychosis doesn’t necessarily mean you have schizophrenia.
3) Multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia are not the same thing
If you have schizophrenia you might have delusions, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms. You might have trouble telling apart what is real and what isn’t.
However, schizophrenia is entirely different to what is known as dissociative identity disorder. This is a severe condition where a person has two or more distinct personalities. Health professionals used to call it multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder.
Both are recognised disorders and while schizophrenia can affect mood, the two conditions are very different.
4) Being schizophrenic does not automatically make you violent
Movies and the internet often show people with schizophrenia as being violent. However, violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to self-harm than harm others.
5) You can treat schizophrenia
There are treatments for schizophrenia. These may include medication, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based treatments, and education to help identify the early warning signs.
With a little help, many people who live with schizophrenia can go on to live good lives.
6) Schizophrenia can lead to further complications
People with schizophrenia generally have a shorter life expectancy than the general population and they are at greater risk of having other health issues. This might include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and weight gain.
The earlier schizophrenia is diagnosed, the better your chance for recovery and successful treatment. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, a GP can help with an initial assessment. After that, your GP can refer you to a specialist.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.