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Schizophrenia 2

"In my senior year of high school, I began to experience personality changes. I

did not realize the significance of the changes at the time, and I think others denied

them, but looking back I can see that they were the earliest signs of illness. I became

increasingly withdrawn and sullen. I felt alienated and lonely and hated everyone. I felt

as if there were a huge gap between me and the rest of the world; everybody seemed so

distant from me." This excerpt describes part of Esse Leete 20-year battle with

schizophrenia. She committed herself to leading the fullest life her disease will allow and

to educating others about mental illness. Schizophrenia is a very serious disease, but

through defining schizophrenia and getting the patient help and treatment a

schizophrenic can lead a full life like any other person.

Schizophrenia is defined as any of a group of psychotic reactions characterized by

withdrawal from reality with highly variable affective, behavioral and intellectual

disturbances by the American Heritage Dictionary. No definition of schizophrenia can

adequately describe all people with this illness. Schizophrenia is an extremely complex

mental illness. It is clear that schizophrenia is a disease which makes it difficult for the

person with the illness to decide what is real and what is not (Swados 5). It is also clear

that this brain disease affects normal, intelligent people in all walks of life. There are six

concrete phrases that describe schizophrenia: it is a real disease, has concrete and

specific symptoms, is different from other mental illnesses, is the result of flaws brain

biochemistry, may be treated by specific antipsychotic drugs, and is almost always


Scientist are unsure of the causes of schizophrenia, although research is

progressing rapidly. Scientist are almost certain that schizophrenia has more than one

cause. One cause could be a chemical imbalance. An imbalance of the brain's chemical

system has long been suspected as the main cause of the illness (Youth 2). A second

cause could be stress. Most authorities disagree that severe stress can cause the illness.

Stress can however, worsen the symptoms when the illness is already present. A third

cause could possibly be genetic predisposition. Genetic transmission has yet to be proven

even though schizophrenia tends to run is some families(Youth 3). For example,

schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the general population but children with one

schizophrenic parent have a 10% chance of developing the illness. When both parents

have schizophrenia the percentage of risk rises to approximately 40% (Youth 3).

Scientists today think that in some types of schizophrenia, the illness may ride along not

only on one common gene, but on various rare genes or a combination of fairly common

genes (Youth 3). While the causes are unclear, schizophrenia definitely is: not caused by

childhood diseases, poverty, domineering mothers and/or passive fathers, or guilt, failure

or misbehavior.

Just like an other illness, schizophrenia has signs or symptoms. The symptoms are

not identical for each person who has the illness. Approximately one-third of those

affected may have only one episode of schizophrenia in his lifetime while another one-

third may have recurring or continual episodes but lead relatively normal lives in

between. A final one-third have symptoms for a lifetime (Youth 3). Schizophrenia

always involves deterioration and changes from a previous level of functioning. Family

members and friends often notice that the person is "not the same". The person with

schizophrenia has difficulty in separating what is real from what is unreal. As the person

becomes more stressed by the demands of day to day living, the person may withdraw and

the symptoms become more pronounced (Video). Deterioration is noticeable in ares such

as: work or academic achievement , how one relates to others, and personal care and

hygiene (Video). Symptoms of schizophrenia are noticed in several different areas. The

first area is personality changes. Personality changes are a key to recognizing

schizophrenia. At first, the changes may be subtle, minor and go unnoticed (Video). As

they worsen they become obvious to family members, friends and co-workers. There is a

loss of feeling or emotions, a lack of interest and motivation (Youth 5). A normally

outgoing person becomes withdrawn, quiet, moody, or inappropriate. When told a sad

story, the person may laugh; a joke may cause him/her to cry; or he/she may be unable

to show any emotion at all (Youth 5).

Another sign is thought change. Thought changes are one of the most profound

changes. These changes in thought are the barrier to clear thinking and normal

reasonableness (Youth 6). Thoughts may be slow in forming, or come extra fast or not at

all. The person may jump from topic to topic, seem confused or have difficulty reaching

easy conclusions. Thinking may be coloured by delusions and false beliefs that resist

logical explanations (Youth 6). A person may express strong ideas of persecution,

convinced that he is being spied on or plotted against. Others may experience grandiose

delusions and feel like Superman, capable of anything and invulnerable to danger (Youth

7). Some may feel a strong religious drive or mission to right the wrongs of the world.

Perceptual changes are also another symptom of schizophrenia. Perceptual

changes turn the world of the ill person topsy-turvey (Youth 8). The nerves carrying

sensory messages to the brain from the eyes, ears, nose, skin and taste buds become

confused and the person sees, hears, smells and feels sensations which are not real. These

are called hallucinations. Frequently, persons with schizophrenia hear voices in their

heads condemning them or giving orders such as "hang yourself"(Youth 9). There is

always the danger that the order will be obeyed. These people see things that others do

not see such as a door in a wall where no door exists or carpets may appear to be

walking. There may be hypersensitivity to sounds tastes and smells. The ring of a

telephone may seem to be as loud as a fire alarm bell or a loved one's voice as threatening

as a lion's roar. The sense of touch may be distorted. They may feel that things are

crawling across their skin, or on other occasions they may feel nothing, not even real

pain. The sense of self is also a symptom. This is when one or all five senses are affected,

the person may feel out of time, out of space, free floating and bodiless and non-existent

as a person.

Psychiatrists have attempted to classify schizophrenia into several types. These

classifications are based on years of experience and research with symptoms and feelings

described by patients and observations made by family members, nurses, doctors and

psychiatrists. The first type of schizophrenia is the disorganized type. This type of

schizophrenia is commonly referred to as the "hebephrenic" type (Youth 11). It has

early symptoms which include poor concentration, moodiness, confusion, and strange

ideas. The person's speech is frequently incoherent, difficult to understand, rambling.

The person's delusions or false beliefs are not well established. The person shows noemotions or they are inappropriate, i.e. silly, giddy laughter (Youth 11). The second type

is the paranoid type. The paranoid type is characterized by delusions and/or

hallucinations with persecution, or less commonly an exaggerated sense of self

importance (Video). Other features may include anxiety for no apparent reason, anger,

argumentativeness, jealousy, and ,occasionally, violence. The third type is the catatonic

type. The criteria for the catatonic type is a catatonic stupor (marked decrease in

reaction to one's environment) or mutism (no speech). The person may have motionless

resistance to all instructions or attempts to be physically moved. The person may

maintain a rigid or bizarre posture. Another symptom could also be excited physical

activity which seems purposeless and the is not influence by the their environment.

Another type is the undifferentiated type. Sometimes the major psychotic symptoms

cannot be classified into any category listed, or may match the criteria for more than one

type of schizophrenia. In addition, to the undifferentiated type there is the residual type.

This category is used when there is at least one recognizable episode of schizophrenia, but

no ongoing obvious psychotic symptoms, though less clear signs of the illness continue,

such as social withdrawal, eccentric behavior, inappropriate emotions, illogical thinking,

etc(Youth 12).

A person who is thought to have schizophrenia needs help and needs to have

treatment. The first step in getting treatment is taking the initiative. The person with

schizophrenia or the family of the patient should ask the family doctor for an assessment

when the symptoms of mental illness are suspected. Family members will likely be the

first to recognize that it is necessary for the affected person to consult a physician for

advice. The family needs to remember that the ill person believes that the hallucinations,

delusion or other symptoms are real, and so may resist treatment(Youth 13). The second

step of getting treatment is being persistent. It is necessary to find a doctor/psychiatrist

who is familiar with schizophrenia. The assessment and treatment of schizophrenia need

to involve medical people who are well-qualified. The specialist who is chosen should

have an interest in the illness, be competent, and has empathy with the patients. If there

is any apprehension about the physician/psychiatrist the family has the right to get a

second opinion. Assisting the doctor/psychiatrist is the third step of getting treatment.

Since patients with the illness may not volunteer much information during the

assessment, the family should speak to the doctor or write a letter. In some cases, it may

be necessary to send written information. The information that is supplied will greatly

assist the physician to make an accurate assessment and outline a suitable course of


Presently schizophrenia is not a "curable" disease, but is controllable (Youth 15).

The treatment of schizophrenia could possibly be medication. Most patients with

schizophrenia must regularly take maintenance medication to keep the illness under

control. It is difficult for the doctor/psychiatrist to know which medication will work best

for a given individual. Many changes in type of drug and dosage may be required. This

period of trial and error can be extremely trying for everyone involved. Some

medications have unusual and difficult side effect

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