WHAT IS SCHIZOPHRENIA? What does the term schizophrenia mean? In its most elementary sense, we might say that schizophrenia is a disease, invented by Eugene Bleeder. Eugene Bleeder was one of the most influential psychiatrists of his time. He is best known today for his introduction of the term schizophrenia, previously known as dementia praecox. In actuality, schizophrenia is often used generically and inappropriately as it is often applied to almost any kind of unusual behavior of which the speaker disapproves. Schizophrenia is almost universally viewed as the "classic example of madness" . It is a startling and sometimes frightening experience to unexpectedly come across a person who proclaims himself Jesus Christ, rants gibberish, or sits with his body unmoving as if frozen in time and place. For some people, such an experience is too shocking, too fearsome, too repulsive. They hurry away, trying to dismiss the image of the deranged individual from their minds.
No other illness is as disabling and baffling as schizophrenia. Today, in spite of the drugs that have allowed many schizophrenics to live at home or in the community, a significant number of people admitted to mental hospitals are victims of the disease. According to the Encyclopedia Of Health, schizophrenics account for nearly 40% of admissions to state mental hospitals, 30% of psychiatric admissions to Veterans Administration hospitals, and about 20% of admissions to private psychiatric hospitals. Schizophrenia is incurable. Its cause or causes are yet unknown, and it is impossible to predict what course the disease will take. There are many theories about the causes of schizophrenia, its progression, and its eventual outcome. They are currently being explored by researchers around the world.
Schizophrenia's most dramatic symptoms are severe and perpetual delusions and hallucinations. A delusion is a false belief or idea that logic and reason show to be "crazy". A hallucination is seeing, hearing , or sensing something that is not there. Both symptoms occur in other mental illnesses, but the content of the schizophrenic delusions is often distinct enough that the experienced psychiatrist or clinical psychologist can readily identify the disorder.
Another common characteristic of this disabling disease is the disjointed conversation of its victims. Their discourse often consists of a series of vague statements strung together in an incoherent manner. Listeners are left puzzled by what they have heard and this can be attributed to the unevenness of the schizophrenic's speaking patterns. To one degree or another, schizophrenics display a certain indifference or nonchalance regarding what is happening around them. Their whole emotional outlook is deadened, and they show little or no warmth toward others. They suffer from a mental paralysis. Prolonged immobility and jerky, robot like movements are other common symptoms of the disorder. Typically, schizophrenics withdraw emotionally and even physically from the world and the people around them. They exclude reality and focus on their hallucinations, and the other thoughts locked within them.
The bizarre thoughts and behavior of schizophrenics usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood. The syndrome begins with a gradual deterioration of behavior that may be more noticeable to the patient's friends than to parents, especially in a high-school-aged person. Schizophrenia occurs in equal numbers in males and females, but women, on average, seem to develop the disease four or five years later than men do. Rarely does schizophrenia first appear in either sex after age 40, and almost never after 50. Symptoms may occur suddenly and dramatically, but more often they begin slowly, almost imperceptibly. They grow more prolonged, more obvious, and more disturbing , almost inevitably ending in at least one hospitalization.
Five long term studies involving more than 1300 patients have concluded that half or more of the schizophrenics had recovered or showed significant improvement in their illness after two to four decades. No one can predict which patients will suffer an unremitting illness, whose schizophrenia will be episodic, or who will eventually go on to recovery. Yet the findings that some schizophrenics do eventually recover have inspired new hopes. A diagnosis of schizophrenia remains serious and frightening, but at least the schizophrenic's outlook may not be as grim and gloomy as was long believed.
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