Schizophrenia is a name that defines a group of mental illnesses with several shared symptoms. Schizophrenia usually affects people for the first time when they reach early adulthood - from their late teens to early thirties. It is equally common in men and women, with the nature of the illness varying greatly between each person affected.
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Whilst difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of this illness, there is strong evidence of structural changes in a sufferer's brain, which suggests that it's not a learned behaviour or caused by purely psychological factors. This is supported by the fact that the number of people suffering from schizophrenia throughout the world, around 1 in 100, is remarkably consistent across all countries.
There does appear to be a genetic link to schizophrenia. If a person has a parent or brother or sister with this illness, the risk of them developing the illness increases to around 10%.
What triggers schizophrenia?-
It's likely that a trigger that has led to illness in the past will also cause future relapses, so it is important to identify and avoid this trigger. Illegal drugs, especially hallucinogenic drugs, are the most common triggers. Even cannabis, which is often considered fairly safe, frequently triggers a relapse.
Alcohol also doesn't mix well with any medication used to treat the illness, so you should try to avoid it completely. Finally, stress can cause a relapse so it helps to have a stable working and social life. Family life that is calm and does not have too many dramatic outbursts is also helpful for maintaining stability.
Symptoms of schizophrenia-
The symptoms of schizophrenia are usually described under the headings of 'positive' and 'negative'. The positive symptoms are most obvious in the active or acute stages of illness. These stages can last for a period of a few weeks or months, and there are times when the symptoms are more obvious and you are clearly unwell. The negative symptoms are most noticeable in the less acute phases of illness - periods of remission, when the patient is coping and functioning fairly well.
You may have some but not necessarily all of the positive symptoms, which include:
- Delusions – fixed beliefs in things that aren't real or true which can be of a frightening and sometimes bizarre nature. A typical example might be you believe that a group of people, including perhaps your friends want to harm you. With time, these false beliefs become more complicated as new beliefs develop.
- Ideas of reference – symptoms where you feel that some external event refers to or connects to you in a way that is not apparent to anyone else. For example, you might watch a television programme and believe it is based on your life. Other people will not be able to understand or recognise these connections.
- Passivity feelings – develop when you believe people or things are able to control your feelings or behaviour. This control feels as if it is through some form of direct influence by way of things such as x-rays, radio beams or telepathic thoughts.
- Auditory hallucinations – are imagined voices that sound like normal voices you believe to be real. Often there's more than one voice talking about you and the conversation is generally personal, showing an intimate knowledge of your habits. They are usually unpleasant. Sometimes the voices give a running commentary on your thinking or actions, and will then be heard to say things like "She's crossing the road".
The negative symptoms are evidence of a gradual change in personality:
- Gradual loss of ambition – even when working at simple jobs you may turn up late or take days off.
- Lack of commitment – may also affect personal relationships, leading to increasing isolation. Sufferers with the worst negative symptoms drop out of everyday life and are at risk of becoming homeless, which is why it is so important to get treatment at an early stage and have family and social support.
How the Priory can help to treat schizophrenia-
Treatment for schizophrenia available through the Priory can include medication, counselling and therapy. These will be prescribed according to your need as the illness progresses. Our overall aim is to support your independence and try to improve the quality of life while recognising, and then learning to avoid, those things that trigger the symptoms.
During an acute phase you will be given antipsychotic drugs. These tend to be sedative and may cause tremors and other unwanted muscle movements. However, side effects can be reduced by handling the dose carefully and using newer, less sedative drugs. You are also quite likely to be offered anti-depressants, mood stabilising drugs and sedatives as necessary. Once the acute phase has passed, medication will be reduced and simplified. Most patients will need some medication for a year or longer after an acute phase to reduce the risk of relapse.
Counselling may be helpful with as few as 10 sessions. It helps you to cope with day-to-day issues, separates real life from imaginary, and encourages you to relearn life skills, helping you to return to normal life as soon as possible.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)-
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) helps you understand your thought processes and how to change your feelings and reactions to the symptoms you experience.
Most families benefit from family therapy. These sessions are aimed at understanding, supporting and managing some of the many difficulties that arise during this sort of illness. Family work may take place with or without you, depending on your ability to cope.