Schizophrenia is a very serious illness in which people interpret reality abnormally. It may result in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thoughts or behaviour that significantly affect daily life. People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment, though sustained and regular treatment can get the symptoms under control and prevent serious complications from occurring.
Diagnosing schizophrenia is not as simple as doing a scan or blood test. A physical exam, tests and screenings (to rule out conditions with similar symptoms) and a psychiatric evaluation are usually done. Certain diagnostic criteria must be met before a formal diagnosis can be made and treatment options determined. A doctor and/or a consultant psychiatrist conduct a structured diagnostic interview and evaluate the patient, taking into account background information, environment, medical and family history. These interviews are very elaborate and in-depth.
Observations by friends and family are helpful in providing the context for diagnosis and for catching early signs. The road to recovery depends greatly on the right diagnosis and detailed observations of the changes in a person’s behaviour.
The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown, but a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors make people more likely to develop it. Stressful or traumatic events might trigger an episode, but it is not clearly understood why some people are affected in this manner while others are not.
Schizophrenia may run in families. There are subtle differences in the brain structure of schizophrenics, but not all people with this different brain structure develop schizophrenia. Brain chemical imbalances may also contribute. People who have experienced complications before and during birth (for example, a low birthweight or a lack of oxygen during birth) may be at higher risk.
Substance abuse and traumatic experiences do not directly cause schizophrenia, but in a vulnerable person they may act as a trigger.
Signs & Indications
Schizophrenia affects thought, behaviour and emotions. If you are concerned that a friend or family member might be struggling, you will need to provide the doctor with full and precise information as much as possible.
Here are some of the indications to take note of.
These are just some of the examples. Schizophrenia has many features and you should take note of all the ways in which your loved one’s behaviour has changed to help doctors make a proper diagnosis.
Withdrawal. Has the person become detached or withdrawn from friends or family?
Strange thoughts. Has the person expressed ideas about being spied on, followed, persecuted or harmed? Do they relate news items happening in the world to themselves?
Risky behaviour. Has the person started to do dangerous things like drive too fast, damage their own or other people’s property, or harm themselves?
Emotional responses. Does the person get agitated or display fear or anxiety for no apparent reason? Do they respond unemotionally or make strange or paradoxical responses?
Changes in activity. Has the person stopped studying or working unexpectedly? Do they have trouble sleeping at night? Are they wandering or having trouble concentrating on tasks?
Performance. Has the person’s performance at school or work suddenly begun to drop off? Are they becoming careless about personal hygiene or forgetful about daily tasks? Do they forget appointments and plans they have made?
Suicidal thoughts and behaviour are common among people with schizophrenia.
Seek treatment immediately if you are thinking of ending your life. If someone you know is thinking about suicide or has attempted it, do not leave them alone. Get help right away.
If you think someone you know is showing signs of schizophrenia, you can try to talk to them about your concerns and encourage them to seek help. You may need to call emergency services to have your loved one evaluated by a professional.
Schizophrenia is treated most often with an individually designed combination of psychotherapy and medication. Treatment is usually lifelong, even after the immediate symptoms have subsided, to minimise the risk of recurrence. People with schizophrenia undergo treatment under the guidance of an experienced psychiatrist. There are several kinds of medication that may be prescribed to treat and control schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects not only the individual but the people who care for and live with them. Individual therapy may be supplemented by family therapy to enable caregivers to understand and cope with the needs of the person who is ill.
Strictly following the treatment plan devised by the person’s doctors can help prevent relapses or worsening of the illness over time.