Schizophrenia

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In our everyday lives, we often hear, read or talk about mental health. But what is it that the term actually means? According to the World Health Organization , mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder and is defined as a state of well-being. Being mentally healthy means that you engage in productive activities that help you grow and develop. It means you have fulfilling relationships that make you feel happier, stronger and supported. And most importantly, being mentally healthy means you have the ability to adapt and cope with adversity or stress when it happens.

Although many people the world over are living contented lives in a positive state of mental health, mental disorders are commonly occurring and often seriously impairing a significant proportion of the world’s population.

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder which affects thinking, feeling and behaviour and causes people to have abnormal experiences. It often includes psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices or delusions. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists , it is most likely to start between the ages of 15 to 35 and will affect about 1 in every 100 people during their lifetime.

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The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into 3 broad categories: positive, negative and cognitive.

  • Positive symptoms are also known as psychotic symptoms, indicating that the person has lost touch with reality in some way. These include:
    • Delusions: Delusions are the most common of schizophrenic symptoms. They involve believing something completely which is not based in reality and usually involves misinterpretation of perception or experience.
    • Hallucinations: Hallucinations are hearing, smelling, feeling or seeing something that isn’t actually there. Hearing voices is the most common hallucination experienced by those with schizophrenia.
    • Disorganised thinking: This involves difficulty organising and expressing thoughts, making it hard for other people to understand.
  • Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviours, and may be mistaken as depression. These include:
    • Loss of pleasure in everyday activities and motivation
    • Lack of ability to begin and sustain planned activities
    • Social withdrawal
    • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Cognitive symptoms involve problems with thought processes. They include:
    • Problems with understanding information and using it to make decisions
    • Difficulty paying attention or focusing
    • Memory problems
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It's not known what causes schizophrenia, but research strongly suggests that schizophrenia involves problems with brain chemistry and structure and is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Street drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines and crack seem to trigger it. Stress appears to be another trigger of schizophrenia.

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There is no single laboratory or brain imaging test for schizophrenia. A mental health professional must often run psychological exams to determine whether a person meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia in their respective country. For example, mental health providers in the United States use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

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The main types of treatment for schizophrenia are counseling and medications. Medicines are used to lessen or stop psychotic symptoms in most people by eliminating hallucinations, feelings of confusion and helping the person think more clearly.

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