Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects an individual’s perception of the world around them. It is characterized by thinking that involves a break from reality, called a psychosis.
As an individual suffering from schizophrenia, I can remember my personal psychosis. I thought that people were following me and could hear everything that I said. It was distressing to think that everyone around me wanted to cause me harm.
While schizophrenia may not be as common as other mental disorders, its effects can be severe. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
No one knows exactly what causes schizophrenia, although it may be brought on by genes, brain development and life events.
I believe that in my case, life events brought on my schizophrenia. As a young adult, I had lost both my parents, who passed away due to illness, as well as a friend of 15 years, who was taken out of my life. These events made me very lonely as my support system broke down. Things became difficult as I no longer had people around me who could help me judge life’s events.
Schizophrenia affects both men and women, although it affects men more frequently. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/schizophrenia.shtml
In my case, I developed schizophrenia in my late 30’s, although the onset is usually between 16 and 30, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml and women generally develop it a little later than men. https://cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/schizophrenia Some children develop schizophrenia as well. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
According to three publications in the United States, schizophrenia affects less than 1% of the adult population. People with schizophrenia have a lifetime suicide rate of 5%, well above that of the general population and experience an average potential life lost of 28.5 years. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/schizophrenia.shtml
The symptoms of schizophrenia can fall into three categories: positive, negative or cognitive. People with positive symptoms can lose touch with reality, and may experience hallucinations or delusions. Negative symptoms can mean that people get less pleasure from everyday life activities or experiences. Cognitive symptoms may include trouble focusing or paying attention.
While there is no cure for schizophrenia, people can recover from the illness. Those who experience severe psychosis may need to spend time in hospital, where they might figure out the service providers who will support them in their recovery.
In my case, I spent 3 months in hospital, where a few medications were tried until an effective one was found to treat my psychosis. It is a medication that I continue to take. The initial dose was very high, but under the proper supervision of a psychiatrist, I have been able to cut down on the amount I take and minimize the side effects.
The medications used to treat schizophrenia are called antipsychotics and can help to alleviate hallucinations and delusions. While they may have side effects, it is important that the patient takes them even if they feel well in order to prevent relapse.
I was told that, because I relapsed several times when not taking medication, that I would be taking my current medication for the rest of my life. While this is a scary prospect, especially since weight gain is a side effect of this particular medication, it is the price to pay for no longer having delusions.
Once a medication has been chosen for a patient and is effective, psychosocial treatments can help the patient as well. These involve learning and using coping skills to manage the challenges of everyday life. Individuals who participate in such treatments are less likely to relapse. Furthermore, coordinated specialty care is a model that integrates many specialists to improve the patient’s overall quality of life.
After I was discharged from hospital, an outpatient team was assembled so that I could continue to receive care. This team has enabled me to take classes in goal setting and problem solving and to develop strategies to achieve them. The team approach also helps me feel well supported as I deal with life’s events. Overall, I would say that the team approach regarding my care has been a positive experience.