Schizophrenia: Not What You May Think

Schizophrenia is yet another disease which Hollywood has made its own yet usually gets wrong. Contrary to popular film and TV storylines, and popular beliefs, schizophrenia is not a “split personality” disorder. It refers instead to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking. What Hollywood does seem to get correct, however, is that schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment.

The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are varied and wide-ranging, but will generally be indicative of an impaired ability to function. They may include:

·         Hallucinations, during which schizophrenics see or hear things that do not exist. Hallucinations will have the full impact of a normal sensory experience, although “hearing voices” is the most common form the symptom takes.

·         Abnormal motor behavior, which can include childlike silliness, resistance to instructions, inappropriate and bizarre posture, a complete lack of response, useless and excessive movement, or unpredictable agitation.

·         Disorganized thinking, as inferred from the schizophrenic's disorganized speech. Communication is impaired, and sometimes the patient may use completely meaningless words.

The schizophrenic may also demonstrate what doctor's call “negative symptoms,” the reduced ability or lack of ability to function normally. The patient may not make eye contact, show no emotions, speak robotically without inflection, or not use any hand gestures when speaking.

A schizophrenic will likely not self-diagnose herself, and it usually falls to loved ones to seek out a doctor's help for the afflicted party. This is crucial, as suicidal thoughts and behavior are common among people with schizophrenia.

Science does not yet know what causes schizophrenia, but current research is pointing towards a combination of genetics, environmental conditions, and problems with certain naturally occurring neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate.

There is a clear set of diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, as published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. Your doctor will use these, after first ruling out other mental health disorders and determining that symptoms are not due to substance abuse, medication or a medical condition, before making his diagnosis.

Antipsychotic medicines are the most commonly prescribed treatment for schizophrenia, but these have frequent and potentially significant neurological side effects. The focus of the treatment will be to manage and minimize the condition's symptoms with as low a dose of the medications as possible.