Young man looking anxiously out of window slide

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that affects a person’s thoughts, behaviour and perception. Schizophrenia develops in about one in a hundred people and usually affects those in their late teens to mid-twenties.

 

Schizophrenia and mental illness in the community

People with schizophrenia are among the most stigmatised and socially marginalised in our community. Part of the problem is that it’s a commonly misunderstood disorder — there are many things that people believe about schizophrenia that are simply not true or are distortions and exaggerations.

Adding to the isolation and loneliness is the way some families or even communities see mental illness as a taboo subject. Among some groups, a mental illness like schizophrenia can be a perceived as a source of shame, embarrassment, or something that will cause a loss of face.

Beliefs like these are harmful. The stigma of being singled out for having schizophrenia can lead to severe social isolation. This in turn can lead to further mental health and even physical health problems.

Despite what some people believe, schizophrenia is like many other mental disorders: it can be managed and there are recognised treatments.

More to the point, mental illness and disorders are quite common. For example, did you know that one in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder each year?

People experience mental health disorders more often than most people realise and schizophrenia is no exception.

If the above is news to you, then what else didn’t you know about schizophrenia? To help remove the stigma, here are six facts about schizophrenia that you may not have heard about before.

 

1) Schizophrenia symptoms can be very different between individuals

How people experience schizophrenia can be different among individuals. Even so, they share some common characteristics. People with schizophrenia may experience two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Delusions: meaning fixed beliefs that are implausible.
  • Hallucinations: experiencing things that no one else is hearing, seeing, tasting, touching or smelling.
  • Disorganised thinking: not connecting thoughts logically, speech is difficult to follow.
  • Abnormal movement: includes catatonia.
  • Negative symptoms: reduced facial expressions, low motivation, inability to enjoy once-liked activities, and social withdrawal.

 

2) Schizophrenia is a form of psychosis

Psychosis is an umbrella term that covers a range of conditions, including schizophrenia. Psychosis is a debilitating condition that compromises the ability to carry out normal everyday activities. Therefore, people with schizophrenia can be considered to be experiencing psychosis, but psychosis is not necessarily schizophrenia.

 

3) Schizophrenia and multiple (or split) personality disorders are different things

People with schizophrenia may have delusions, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms. They have difficulty distinguishing between what is reality and what isn’t. However, schizophrenia is different to dissociative identity disorder. This is the condition once referred to as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder.

Both are recognised disorders that are known to affect people very differently.

 

4) Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia

Popular culture and movies often depict people with schizophrenia as being violent. However, violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to harm themselves than others.

 

5) Schizophrenia can be treated

There are treatments for schizophrenia. These may include medication, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based treatments, and psycho-education to identify the early warning signs.

Many people who live with the condition go on to live productive and successful lives.

 

6) Schizophrenia can lead to further complications

People with schizophrenia generally have a shorter life expectancy than the general population and they are at greater risk of having other health issues (e.g. heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain).

Research also suggests that 68 per cent of people with schizophrenia have not participated in social activities in the previous year, citing stigma as a barrier to participation.

 

If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, a GP can help with an initial assessment. After that, your GP can refer you to a specialist. The earlier schizophrenia is diagnosed, the better a chance for recovery.

 

Worried about yourself or someone you know? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.