Hello, friends! I apologize for being so off the blog-grid recently, but with looming graduation and transitioning into the Real World, I have been quite the busy bee. Your patience and support have been totally humbling and wonderful. Thank you, truly.
As you might be aware, May is Mental Health Awareness Month! In honor of this groovy time, I am going to highlight various mental illnesses or mental health issues to educate and to raise awareness. I am going to start off by discussing an illness that has a certain significance in my life: schizophrenia.
I will give you the lowdown on schizophrenia, but keep in mind that schizophrenia is an extremely complex and serious mental illness. If you think you or someone you know may be exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, see a mental health professional immediately.
What is schizophrenia?
According to NAMI, schizophrenia is an illness that “interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others.” This definition is generic because schizophrenia is incredibly complex, but basically, it makes organizing thoughts or ideas very difficult and can often interfere with the perception of reality.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
This is where it gets tricky—there is not one certain symptom that identifies schizophrenia, but there are a several different symptoms in three different categories: positive, negative, or cognitive.
Positive symptoms are symptoms that are ADDED to an individual’s personality. Some of these symptoms include hallucinations or delusions. There is a BIG difference in hallucinations and delusions, but it can be easy to confuse them. Hallucinations are things that a sufferer can physically hear or see, while delusions are beliefs or ideas that tend to materialize irrationally. For example, a hallucination would be hearing a voice that people around you do not hear, while a delusion would be a belief that your classmate is trying to steal from you.
Negative symptoms are things that are taken away from an individual’s personality. Some negative symptoms of schizophrenia are an inability to complete a sentence or thought, emotional flatness, or social withdrawal. Self-isolation is a huge indicator and aggravator of schizophrenia!
Cognitive symptoms affect a person’s thinking patterns. These symptoms make it difficult or impossible for someone to organize thoughts, complete tasks, or have insight. For example, a person may be unaware or in denial that they have an illness.
There are different TYPES of schizophrenia?! What??
Yes, you read that right. Despite what movies tell you, not all individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia suffer from hallucinations or paranoid delusions! Here is a brief description of the different types of this illness:
Paranoid—this is the one you aaaalways see in movies or crime television shows; sufferers have delusions that revolve around someone or something being “after” them. They feel suspicious most of the time.
Disorganized—sufferers of this type may not have delusions or hallucinations, but they have difficulty communicating and can seem to have incoherent speech or thought patterns.
Catatonic—sufferers of this can seem to be mute or unresponsive. Often they have “waxy” posture, where they will assume an unusual physical position for a period of time (example: silently standing with one leg outstretched for 5 minutes).
Residual—these individuals once suffered from delusions or hallucinations, but they don’t anymore! Yay! However, they still have difficulty engaging or participating in life or activities.
Schizoaffective disorder—this is kind of a two-for-one illness; sufferers show symptoms for both schizophrenia AND a mood disorder, like depression or anxiety.
What causes schizophrenia?
No one is really sure what exactly causes schizophrenia, but doctors are sure of one thing: the brain composition of people with this illness is different than the brain composition of someone without it. Professionals think that there is a genetic component and they think that it could have something to do with birth complications.
People that have schizophrenia usually begin showing symptoms in later teens or early twenties. Women usually show symptoms later in life than men do, but in all genders, the illness has usually taken full-form in the mid-to-late twenties and symptoms are usually not exhibited for the first time after age 45. Schizophrenia affects all genders equally and it affects 4-5 of 1,000 individuals.
How do you treat schizophrenia?
As I said before, schizophrenia is a very serious mental illness and it MUST be treated with medication and consistent psychiatric treatment. Even if this illness isn’t curable, it is totally treatable. Many people with schizophrenia have productive and enriching lives, but are frequently unable to work or live alone. Every person is different, though, with or without schizophrenia, so treatment varies depending on the individual!
Are people with this illness violent? Are they crazy?
First of all, the word crazy should literally NEVER be used to describe any person at all ever, especially someone suffering from mental illness. So, the answer to that question would be a resounding ABSOLUTELY NOT. Because schizophrenia often causes psychosis, or a loss of touch with reality, it can seem difficult to understand and very scary, but no, these people are not crazy.
I actually did my senior social work research on the likelihood of violence among people with schizophrenia and (spoiler alert) people with schizophrenia are human beings! When receiving proper treatment, they are not any more violent than any other human. If they are not receiving proper treatment or are using substances, they can become violent if their symptoms (specifically hallucinations or delusions) become aggravated. In another shocking revelation, other human beings can be violent when they use drugs or alcohol as well, sooo…
Okay, I know this was a hefty read, but I hope it was helpful and educational to you! This illness is especially important to me because someone in my life that I love more than words can convey suffers from schizophrenia; it is frustrating to me to see the misunderstanding and stigmatization of this illness, so this is my attempt to diffuse some of that. People with schizophrenia are people; just as people with anxiety, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis are. They are not scary, they are not dangerous; they are human beings that have a brain complication that makes organizing their thoughts difficult. I hope you feel educated and aware and that this was a great way to start off Mental Health Awareness Month!
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As always, please do not hesitate to get in touch if you need someone to talk to. You don’t have to be sad. punktalks(at)gmail(dot)com.