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Schizophrenia

Definition

Everyone experiences confusion, worry or moodiness from time to time. However, someone who has confused thoughts, is hearing or seeing things that aren’t real or who believes things that are not true to the point where it is interfering with their ability to live life might be diagnosed with a type of Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a chronic (ongoing) and severe illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Something is going on in their mind that makes it hard for them to figure out what’s real and regulate their thoughts and emotions.

Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental illnesses, the symptoms can be very disabling and get worse over time if left untreated. Living with symptoms of Schizophrenia can be frightening, confusing and debilitating. Schizophrenia is a serious illness that requires support and treatment. Schizophrenia is different for different people. No two people may experience the symptoms of Schizophrenia that same way.

It is not:

  • A split personality.
  • Caused by childhood trauma, bad parenting, or poverty.
  • The result of any actions or personal failures of the individual.
  • A sign or result of low intelligence.
Causes

Schizophrenia is complicated and there is still much to discover about exactly what causes it. The causes seem to be biological (abnormalities in brain chemicals or structure), genetic (your family history and the genes you're born with), and environmental (influenced by things that happen to you or around you). There is some research that suggests substance use can also increase a person’s risk of developing Schizophrenia.

Signs and Symptoms

Below is a list of signs and symptoms of Schizophrenia. You might notice that many of these signs or symptoms could be explained by a number of issues, not just Schizophrenia.

  • Trouble concentrating, communicating, thinking (short-term memory loss, unable to organize, make logical priorities, decision-making, etc.).
  • Trouble doing usual activities.
  • Changes in emotions or emotional outbursts.
  • Trouble with moods (depression).
  • Behaviour that seems strange or unusual.
  • Changes in sleeping, eating or personal hygiene habits.
  • Paranoia - Being really worried about things that may not be real or reasonable (like believing people are watching you all the time, or believing that people can read your thoughts, are spying on you or trying to hurt you, etc.).
  • Delusions - Strong beliefs that aren’t true (like thinking you can read minds or that the radio is sending you personal messages).
  • Hallucinations - Hearing or seeing things that aren’t real. Auditory hallucinations (hearing things, like voices) are more common than visual hallucinations.
Help

Schizophrenia is treatable. For Schizophrenia or any other mental health concern, if signs or symptoms are interfering with your life, it’s time to seek help.

For instance, if sleep patterns, eating, relationships, school, work or enjoyment of life is being affected, it’s a good idea to talk to someone; that someone could be a friend you trust, a teacher, your family doctor, a crisis line or counselor.

If it is a friend you are concerned about, they may resist help or not even recognize that they need it. They might need you to make the first step. In any case, if you feel like your friend might hurt him/herself or someone else, it’s time to call emergency services. People with Schizophrenia have an increased risk of suicide, especially when they are not receiving treatment. Substance use can also increase a person’s risk of hurting themselves.

Visit the Help Section to find out how to get help for yourself or a friend.

Treatment

Like other mental health issues, Schizophrenia and how it is experienced will differ from person to person. Some may have an early and sudden onset, while for others it may be more gradual. Some may have several, ongoing episodes, while others may have fewer and less “serious” symptoms or episodes.

Treatment will likely be unique for each individual because each case is unique.

Schizophrenia is typically treated with medication that is carefully monitored and adjusted as needed with the help of a doctor. Some people may also see a counselor or therapist, participate in group therapy, or spend time learning skills that can help them live with their illness. Some people who have Schizophrenia may need to spend time in a hospital. Many people with Schizophrenia benefit from having their family and friends become educated about the illness and on how they can be helpful and supportive.

Every story is different, and sometimes people need to try different types of medications and supports before they find the right plan for them.

A person living with Schizophrenia, like any other person, will benefit from maintaining wellness and having good supports in their life.

There is no cure for Schizophrenia, but early detection and ongoing treatment can help people live successful and productive lives.

“With the right supports, people can work or volunteer, be active in their own care, and contribute to their communities.” - CMHA

Myths

Schizophrenia is a serious illness and is pretty misunderstood. Entertainment and news media have contributed to some myths people have about Schizophrenia. Some common myths are:

Myth: People with Schizophrenia end up on the streets and homeless.

Fact: While many in Canada’s homeless population have mental health concerns, there are also a lot of people with Schizophrenia who have families, friends, homes, jobs, volunteer positions, etc. With support and treatment, people can learn to live productive lives.

Myth: People with mental illnesses like Schizophrenia are unpredictable and violent.

Fact: Statistically, people living with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be victims of violence, and those with Schizophrenia are more likely to hurt themselves than others. Most violent crimes are committed by people who do not have Schizophrenia.  Schizophrenia, especially when it is untreated, can certainly cause someone to have delusions, hallucinations, and do things that don’t make sense to those around them, but this alone is not a predictor of violence. Substance use can increase the likelihood of violence in someone living with Schizophrenia.

Myth: If someone in my family has Schizophrenia, then I’ll likely have it too.

Fact: Schizophrenia affects about 1 in 100 people. Even though genetics seem to play a part in the development of Schizophrenia, it’s not the only factor. Family history of mental illness doesn’t mean that you will have a mental illness.

Myth: People diagnosed with Schizophrenia are beyond help.

Fact: There are all sorts of supports and strategies available that can help a person diagnosed with Schizophrenia live a productive life, especially if it is diagnosed and treated early.

Myth: Schizophrenia is caused by bad parents or an unstable childhood.

Fact: There are environmental factors that can contribute to the development of Schizophrenia, but it can happen to anyone. Even a person who grew up in a loving, supportive home with an amazing family and friends can develop Schizophrenia.

Myth: Schizophrenia is the same as “Multiple Personality Disorder”.

Fact: There are lots of examples in the media of Schizophrenia being described as having two “personalities”. The fact is that these two illnesses are not the same. Multiple Personality Disorder (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder) is quite rare, and the hallucinations and delusions that someone might experience with Schizophrenia are not the same as having multiple “personalities”.

Support

Supporting someone with any type of serious illness can be challenging. Ways to help and support a friend or loved one who is living with Schizophrenia :

  • Get your friend into treatment and encourage them to stay in treatment whenever possible. This can be tough. Sometimes people may resist or not want to continue with medication or other treatment strategies. The best you can do is encourage them and be supportive.
  • Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them. Trying to apply logic to things they are saying, thinking or doing may not work when someone is having delusions or hallucinations.
  • Stay calm with your friend if they are experiencing symptoms of Schizophrenia. Tell them that you acknowledge that everyone has the right to see things their own way.
  • You do not have to tolerate dangerous or inappropriate behavior. Being respectful, supportive and kind should be a goal when supporting your friend, but don’t be afraid to set personal boundaries for yourself.
  • Check to see if there are any support groups in your area for your friend and/or yourself. Supporting someone who is living with Schizophrenia can be very stressful, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help and support for this.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of Schizophrenia and how it presents with your friend specifically. No two people are the same.
  • If your friend is in the hospital, go and visit them if you are able. The hospital may be scary and overwhelming for them, and a friendly face can help. Ask about visitor rules first.
  • Help your friend to avoid triggers like substances or situations that can cause them to relapse or feel unwell.
  • Know that your friend may need help or support with things that might seem simple to you. The loss of concentration and clear thinking can be hard to adjust to for someone living with Schizophrenia.
  • Treatment is a process. Medications can cause side effects and may need to be changed and adjusted. Be aware of this and try to be supportive.
  • Don’t argue with a person who is having delusions or hallucinations. Concentrate on how they are FEELING instead, and let them talk through it.
  • Ask your friend how else you can help. It may be as easy as just providing a distraction, asking them to do simple, relaxing things with you (like hanging out, watching a movie etc.) or just listening to them without judgement.
  • Set some boundaries for yourself, and take care. You can’t help someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed yourself.

See the Help Section for more info about helping a friend and self care. 

Resources

The information here has been taken from CAMH, CMHA and the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society. For more in-depth information, please visit these organizations online.

Ontario - call Connex Ontario to find out where there are mental health supports in your community.

Canada - The Schizophrenia Society of Canada has information about Schizophrenia and supports across the country.

In any situation where someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or a local crisis line. Please see the Help Section for more information on how to seek help and mindyourmind’s Weblinks to find more information or resources. 

More on mindyourmind.ca

A poem about one person’s perspective “What is Schizophrenia”

A personal story written by a person who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia “In My Shoes”

An interview with Jonathon Balazs about his film The Mars Project, a film about rapper Khari “Conspiracy” Stewart and his diagnosis of Schizophrenia

A film created with a young person and mindyourmind. It tells her story of the struggles and eventual diagnosis of Schizophrenia.

References

The information here has been taken from CAMH, CMHA and the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society. For more in-depth information, please visit these organizations online.

Ontario – call ConnexOntario to find out where there are mental health supports in your community.

CanadaThe Schizophrenia Society of Canada has information about Schizophrenia and supports across the country.

Crisis – in any situation where someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or a local crisis line.

Please see the Help Section for more information and resources.