Schizophrenia is not a split personality

Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder characterised by disruptions to thinking, emotions, and a distorted perception of reality. Symptoms of schizophrenia vary widely but may include hallucinations, delusions, unwanted thoughts, social withdrawal, and lack of motivation, impaired thinking and memory. Symptoms usually start between the ages of 15 to 35 and affect about one in every 100 people during their lifetime.
People with schizophrenia have a high risk of suicide.

Causes of schizophrenia

The causes of schizophrenia are not known for sure however, it is likely that there are several different contributing factors, such as’
Certain environmental events may trigger schizophrenia in people who are genetically at risk especially if they have a family member with the disorder.
Damage to the brain during pregnancy/birth.
Use of recreational drugs, including ecstasy/LSD/amphetamines (speed), cannabis and crack.

Symptoms of schizophrenia

Symptoms that represent a change in behaviour/thoughts are called ‘positive’ symptoms.

These include:

  • Delusional/untoward thoughts.
  • Difficulty thinking, finding it hard to concentrate and focus on one matter.
  • Feeling that thoughts are controlled, being taken over, controlled by someone else.
  • Hallucinations, hearing/smelling/feeling or seeing something that is not there.
  • Hearing voices is the most common problem. The voices can seem utterly real, although they may be pleasant; they are more often rude/critical/abusive or annoying.

Loss of normal thoughts/feelings or actions are known as ‘negative’ symptoms.

They include:

  • Loss of interest/energy and emotions.
  • Become reclusive.
  • Lack of personal hygiene.
  • Feel uncomfortable with other people.

Treatment for schizophrenia

The earlier help is sought, the better the outlook and the less need for hospital treatment.

Treatments include:

Antipsychotic medication helps to weaken any delusions/hallucinations and can control (but not cure) the symptoms in around four out of five people.

Older, ‘typical’ antipsychotic medication work by reducing the action of a chemical in the brain called dopamine.

They can cause side effects such as:

  • Stiffness.
  • Shakiness.
  • Feeling slow.
  • Restlessness.
  • Sexual difficulties.
  • Unwanted movements, mainly of the mouth and tongue.

Newer, ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medication work on different chemicals in the brain and are less likely to produce unwanted movements, but can cause

  • Weight gain.
  • Diabetes.
  • Tiredness.
  • Sexual problems.

Psychological treatments for schizophrenia

Counselling/psychotherapy combined with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help people live with their experiences and help work out what makes people unwell. Family therapy can help people to cope better with the illness where sessions help families learn about the disorder.
In these sessions, the therapist/client will find ways of solving some of the practical problems that may arise.

Support for schizophrenia

Self help:

  • Learn to recognise the signs; these can include basic things such as going off food/feeling anxious or sleeping badly.
  • Avoid stress, or using drugs/alcohol to feel better.
  • Try to keep healthy/eat well, do not smoke and keep fit.

Helping someone else with schizophrenia

It can be hard to understand when the person you know starts to behave differently, avoids other people and become less active. If they have delusional ideas, they will not always talk about them, or if they are hearing voices, may suddenly look away from you as they listen.
When you speak to them, they may say little, or be difficult to understand. A person with schizophrenia can be more sensitive to stress, so you can help by avoiding arguments and keeping calm.

People with schizophrenia can lead full, productive and useful lives with combination treatment.

Dr Vasos can help with schizophrenia and attendant issues.