Schizophrenia is a complex illness in which people have difficulties in their thought processes leading to hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking and unusual speech or behaviour (known as 'psychotic symptoms')
These symptoms mean that people with schizophrenia can find it difficult to interact with others and may withdraw from everyday activities and the outside world.
Schizophrenia is not literally a 'split personality' as the name suggests, but people with schizophrenia may view the world differently from those around them. They may hear/see/smell/feel things that are not experienced by others (hallucinations), e.g. hearing voices (which tends to be the most common hallucination). They may have an unshakeable belief in things that are not true (delusions), e.g. that people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting to harm them. As their world sometimes appears distorted by hallucinations and delusions, people with schizophrenia may feel frightened, anxious and confused. They can become so disorganized that they can feel scared themselves and can also scare those around them.
In the past, there was a polarized view of schizophrenia, with people being viewed as either ‘ill’ or ‘well’. However, the view has recently shifted to the concept of a spectrum of ‘wellness’ from acutely unwell, through various levels of functioning to ‘well’. This means that patients with schizophrenia can experience improvements, in terms of learning to cope with the illness, and achieving or regaining levels of daily functioning appropriate for them as individuals. There are various things that can help with this process, and their usefulness will vary from individual to individual.
Treatment plays a crucial role for the majority of people with schizophrenia. In addition to medication-based treatments, learning about how to deal with schizophrenia through talk therapy can also help and patient support groups are a useful source of valuable information.
For some people, painting, poetry or other creative arts are fundamental tools to help them regain balance in their lives. Others find sport and keeping fit are very important to maintain their feeling of well-being. For many people, it is a combination of medication and other approaches that allows them to begin the process of getting better and to stay well.
People with schizophrenia can suffer considerable disruption in their lives. Their families and friends may also be deeply affected due to the distress of seeing the effects of the condition and the difficulties associated with supporting the patient. This can be difficult for family members, particularly when they remember how a person was before they became ill.
It is important to realize that although schizophrenia is distressing and frightening, it does not mean that people with the illness cannot have a good quality of life and possibly be in employment. Just like anybody else who has a long-term or recurring illness, people with schizophrenia can learn to manage their condition and get on with their lives.
For schizophrenia support, please contact the Schizophrenia Society of Canada at 1-800-263-5545 or at info[at]schizophrenia.ca. Yes those are [ and ] found on your computer keyboard under the equal sign.
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John has been reporting on home health care and independent living for over ten years. In addition to extensive research, John writes on important issues from personal experience.