The National Schizophrenia Awareness Week falls on the date of 23-29 of May 2021. This celebration aims to shine a light on the challenges faced by millions of people living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia worldwide. It sets out the steps we can all take to stop the ongoing stigma and discrimination surrounding this highly misunderstood illness.
The theme of Schizophrenia Awareness Week in 2021 is “Discover Better Mental Health.”
What is Schizophrenia?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) definition of schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that causes delusions, hallucinations, disorganised speech and may lead to a psychotic episode if left untreated. According to statistics from World Health Organisation, there are about 20 million people worldwide who have schizophrenia.
People with this condition are 2 to 3 times more likely to die early than the general population. It may be because of other schizophrenia-induced illnesses, such as cardiovascular, metabolic, and infectious diseases. It is also common for people suffering from this condition to suffer from stigma, discrimination, and violation of human rights.
Schizophrenia also affects how we think, act, express our emotions, perceive reality, and relate to others. Though it is not as common as other major mental illnesses, schizophrenia can be the most chronic and disabling.
Schizophrenia and its effects
Contrary to most people’s belief, schizophrenia is nowhere near having a split or multiple personalities. Schizophrenia involves psychosis, which is a type of mental illness in which a person has a different perception of reality. People who suffer from a psychotic episode may lose touch with reality for a moment. They may have confusing thoughts, images, and sounds. They may also exhibit behaviour that appears very strange and even shocking. A psychotic episode may also cause a sudden personality change, which often happens when people who have it lose touch with reality.
People with schizophrenia may encounter problems performing their daily activities at work, at school, and in the community. They may exhibit signs of withdrawal and be frightened of reality.
The severity of schizophrenia may vary from person to person. Some may only have one episode throughout their lifetime, while others experience it often and still manage to live a normal life in between.
As of the present, there is no permanent cure for this lifelong disease. However, the symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment.
Onset and Symptoms
Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in the late teen years through to early thirties. It tends to emerge earlier in males’ early twenties, while most females have it between their early twenties and early thirties.
The symptoms of schizophrenia generally fall into the following three main categories: psychotic, negative, and cognitive symptoms.
- Psychotic symptoms may include altered perceptions such as changes in main senses (vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste). The person may also suffer from abnormal thinking and exhibit odd behaviours such as hallucination, delusions, and thought disorders.
- Negative symptoms or side effects of schizophrenia include the lack/loss of motivation and disinterest in daily activities. The person may also suffer from social withdrawal and have difficulty showing emotions. A person with schizophrenia may have difficulty functioning normally.
- Cognitive symptoms may include trouble concentrating, paying attention, and remembering something. For some people, the cognitive symptoms may be subtle. But they may be more prominent with others that they can interfere with their normal daily activities. They may have difficulty processing information in the decision-making process or have trouble using information immediately after learning it.
Risk Factors of Schizophrenia
Several factors contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia.
In some cases, schizophrenia runs in families. However, it is important to note that not all families who have it will pass it on to family members or distant relatives. According to a genetic study, many different genes can increase the risk of having this lifelong condition. But there is no single gene detected that causes the disorder by itself. The genetic information is not yet 100% effective to predict those who will develop schizophrenia.
Experts have found a connection between genetic risk and the person’s environment that play a role in the development of schizophrenia. Living in poverty (minimum wage line), stressful surroundings, exposure to viruses, and nutritional problems before and after birth may be a factor in developing this condition.
Brain structure and function
According to scientists, differences in the brain, functions, and neurotransmitter interactions may contribute to developing this chronic disorder. Previous studies have seen the difference in brain connections and circuits to those who have schizophrenia before birth. While growing up, changes to the brain may trigger psychotic episodes in individuals who may be vulnerable to the other risks mentioned above.
While there is no permanent cure for schizophrenia, continuous research leads to innovative and much safer treatment for this chronic condition. These approaches hold the promise of more efficient and effective therapies for those who have them. Most schizophrenia symptoms will greatly improve with treatment, and the likelihood of a recurrence will be lessened.
Treatment for schizophrenia may include:
Antipsychotics are the primary medications used to treat schizophrenia. These drugs do not claim to cure schizophrenia, but it helps relieve the most troubling symptoms. It controls delusions, hallucinations, and thinking problems when having a psychotic episode.
Medications may help relieve symptoms of schizophrenia, but psychosocial treatments are also one great way to deal with this condition. This therapy can help with the behavioural, psychological, social, and occupational problems with schizophrenia.
These treatments help the patients to manage their symptoms, identify early warning signs of relapse, and help create a relapse prevention plan. Psychosocial therapies may include rehabilitation, cognitive remediation, Family therapy, Group therapy/support groups.
Mental Health First Aid for Schizophrenia
Having to witness someone you know experience schizophrenia may be scary.
But there are steps you can take to provide mental health first aid for those who may be experiencing a psychotic break.
- Assess for any risk of suicide or harm
- Listen with no judgment
- Provide reassurance and give necessary information
- Encourage the person to seek appropriate professional help
- Encourage self-help strategies and other support groups
The goal of Mental Health First Aid is to provide aid and train people to attend to a mental health crisis properly. A trained mental health first aider can help spot and assess someone who is showing signs of psychosis. The first aider can also provide appropriate support, hence promoting discovering mental health.
1 in 5 adults has a mental illness, which means being prepared ahead of time can be invaluable. Anyone can undergo training to provide Mental Health First Aid.