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Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a disabling brain disorder that affects how a person thinks, acts and views the world. People with schizophrenia lose contact with reality. They may see or hear things that don’t exist, speak in strange ways, believe that people are trying to hurt or kill them when they are in no real danger, or feel that they are being followed or watched. Because of their inability to distinguish between reality and symptoms of their illness, navigating through their daily life can be a terrifying and confusing experience. They may see extreme danger where there is none, have bizarre beliefs or do peculiar things that push other people away. People with schizophrenia may experience extreme confusion and frustration because their thoughts are jumbled and they cannot express themselves or relate well to others. As a result of these difficulties, people with schizophrenia often isolate themselves or may act out in unusual ways due to fear or confusion. Schizophrenia is a chronic disease, but many people with schizophrenia are able to live fulfilling lives with the proper treatment. 

How Prevalent is Schizophrenia?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.4 million American adults are diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is about equally common in men and women. Schizophrenia generally begins in late adolescence to their early 20’s for men, and in their 20’s to early 30’s for women.

What Causes Schizophrenia?
Although research has not determined the specific cause of schizophrenia, it is widely accepted that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of brain vulnerabilities (inherited or damage from a head injury or disease) and environmental factors. It is believed that some people are susceptible to schizophrenia by genes (being born with it), since it tends to run in families, or through damage to their brain throughout their life, which primes them to potentially have schizophrenia. Just because people may have these brain vulnerabilities, does not mean that they will get schizophrenia. People with brain vulnerability to schizophrenia usually need an environmental factor that triggers the disease. These environmental factors may involve drug or alcohol use---schizophrenics are more prone to nicotine, alcohol and substance abuse--, trauma, or extreme stress and after an environmental trigger occurs, schizophrenia symptoms may appear. 

How Do I Know if I Need Help?
Sometimes schizophrenia appears suddenly, but usually it appears with subtle warning signs and a gradual decline in functioning long before the symptoms are obvious. Most of the time friends and family of people with schizophrenia report knowing early on that something was wrong or different with their loved one, but were unsure of how to help. In the early stages or schizophrenia, people may act peculiar, unmotivated, emotionally numb, and withdrawn. They may isolate themselves, have poor hygiene, say odd or irrational statements, or appear overly suspicious of others. Often times they are having problems in different areas of their life (work or school, relationships). If you or someone you know is displaying unusual changes that are causing concern, help is needed. 

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Symptoms of schizophrenia can vary greatly from person to person. Schizophrenia symptoms may include delusions (false beliefs), severely disorganized thinking or speech, inability to organize and plan properly (executive functioning), emotional numbness, loss of energy and interest in other people, and hallucinations (hearing, seeing, feeling, or tasting things that are not there; receiving messages over the television, or communicating with God in a way that no one else gets to do). Some people with schizophrenia become paranoid and think that people are watching them. Others may have difficulty organizing their thoughts and say irrational or strange things.  Some people may withdraw from everyone and go into a catatonic (e.g., completely still with an inability to move) state. Many people with schizophrenia do not like to take their medicine on a regular basis and return to the symptoms already described. If symptoms return there is a good likelihood that the person with schizophrenia is no longer taking their medicine as prescribed.

Getting the Help You Need
A clinical consultation with a licensed mental health professional is necessary in determining whether a person has the diagnosis of Schizophrenia.  At OHEL, we provide treatment for schizophrenia that typically includes anti-psychotic medication and medication management. Good medication management is essential, since often patients will deny their illness and not take their medications, or their disorganized thinking and poor memory may interfere with their ability to consistently be compliant with the medication. Counseling is another important treatment modality that can help the person learn new ways to manage symptoms. Counseling can especially help people with schizophrenia who are already taking medication by improving communication, focusing on self-care, building communication and relationship skills, getting back to work or school and managing every day challenges that they may face. Those with schizophrenia typically need to have their illness managed for the rest of their lives. OHEL and other community mental health systems provide supportive care for those with this disorder and focus on shelter, case management, and most importantly monitoring of their medications.  OHEL can assist in an individual in adapting to schizophrenia to help them have a more productive and positive life.  

Remember, at OHEL, we are only a phone call or a click away from you road to recovery.

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