The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misconceptions about the disease. Most people with schizophrenia are not any more dangerous or violent than people in the general population. While limited mental health resources in the community may lead to homelessness and frequent hospitalizations, it is a misconception that people with schizophrenia end up homeless or living in hospitals. Most people with schizophrenia live with their family, in group homes or on their own.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which can be distressing for them and for their family and friends. The symptoms of schizophrenia can make it difficult to participate in usual, everyday activities, but effective treatments are available.
It's not known what causes schizophrenia, but researchers believe that a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and environment contribute to development of the disorder.
Problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate, may contribute to schizophrenia. Neuroimaging studies show differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia. While researchers aren't certain about the significance of these changes, they indicate that schizophrenia is a brain disease.
Although the precise cause of schizophrenia isn't known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering schizophrenia, including:
With any condition, it's essential to get a comprehensive medical evaluation in order to obtain the best diagnosis. For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, some of the following symptoms are present in the context of reduced functioning for a least 6 months:
These include a person hearing voices, seeing things, or smelling things others can’t perceive. The hallucination is very real to the person experiencing it, and it may be very confusing for a loved one to witness.
These are false beliefs that don’t change even when the person who holds them is presented with new ideas or facts. People who have delusions often also have problems concentrating, confused thinking, or the sense that their thoughts are blocked.
These are symptoms that diminish a person’s abilities. Negative symptoms often include being emotionally flat or speaking in a dull, disconnected way. People with the negative symptoms may be unable to start or follow through with activities, show little interest in life, or sustain relationships. Negative symptoms are sometimes confused with clinical depression.
People with the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia often struggle to remember things, organize their thoughts or complete tasks. Commonly, people with schizophrenia have lack of insight. This means the person is unaware that he has the illness, which can make treating or working with him much more challenging.
Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even when symptoms have subsided. Treatment with medications and psychosocial therapy can help manage the condition. In some cases, hospitalization may be needed. A psychiatrist experienced in treating schizophrenia usually guides treatment. The treatment team also may include a psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse and possibly a case manager to coordinate care. The full-team approach may be available in clinics with expertise in schizophrenia treatment.
Once psychosis recedes, in addition to continuing on medication, psychological and social (psychosocial) interventions are important. These may include:
Medications are the cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment, and antipsychotic medications are the most commonly prescribed drugs. They are thought to control symptoms by affecting the brain neurotransmitter dopamine.The goal of treatment with antipsychotic medications is to effectively manage signs and symptoms at the lowest possible dose. The psychiatrist may try different drugs, different doses or combinations over time to achieve the desired result. Other medications also may help, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. It can take several weeks to notice an improvement in symptoms.
Education about the disorder can help the person with schizophrenia understand the importance of sticking to the treatment plan. Education can help friends and family understand the disorder and be more compassionate with the person who has it.
Managing schizophrenia is an ongoing process. Keeping treatment goals in mind can help the person with schizophrenia stay motivated. Help your loved one remember to take responsibility for managing the disorder and working toward goals.
Using alcohol, nicotine or recreational drugs can make it difficult to treat schizophrenia. If your loved one is addicted, quitting can be a real challenge. Get advice from the health care team on how best to approach this issue.
These services may be able to assist with affordable housing, transportation and other daily activities.
The person with schizophrenia and loved ones may benefit from stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga or tai chi.
Support groups for people with schizophrenia can help them reach out to others facing similar challenges. Support groups may also help family and friends cope.
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