Focus On... Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe and enduring mental illness that affects about 1% of the population worldwide. A Consultant Psychiatrist at the Moorside Unit in Trafford, gives an insight into the condition and helps diminish the often-unfounded stigma that surrounds it.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious psychotic illness that can be very disabling if not treated appropriately. Paranoid delusional beliefs and auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) are prominent symptoms often causing the sufferer to become withdrawn, sensitive and isolated.  Left untreated, the illness can lead to self-neglect and a decrease in cognitive functioning. Although it can occur at any age, first episodes typically happen in the early 20’s.

Schizophrenia is a life-long illness in that it can be controlled by anti-psychotic medication, and the sufferer can go through periods of remission, but it cannot be cured. Prognosis is variable with some sufferers being able to remain quite high functioning, however at least one third of people will deteriorate significantly in their functioning and will be unable to live independently.

What causes it?

No one knows exactly what causes schizophrenia, although it is thought that a variety of different factors contribute to it. These include genetic aspects, chemical abnormalities in the brain, psychosocial developmental, family circumstances and environment.

Skunk, the generic name given to potent strains of the cannabis plant containing the highest levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is also thought to increase the chance of a vulnerable person developing schizophrenia who might otherwise not have done so.

What can I do to help myself?

  • If you have been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia it is very important you adhere to your medication regime, taking the amount specified by your doctor at the right times. It is thought that up to 70% of schizophrenia patients don’t take their medication properly.
  • Learn to recognise symptoms which may indicate the start of an episode, these can include basic things such as a lack of appetite, not sleeping well, or feeling anxious. Psychosocial interventions may well help with this as well as enhancing interpersonal and social functioning
  • Develop a support structure with people you trust such as family or friends. Avoid illicit drugs, which tend to worsen the course of illness.
  • Keep active both mentally and physically.

Myth Busting

"Schizophrenics have split personalities": This is not true - sufferers have one personality, but being ill can cause the mind to lose touch with reality and can cause irrational beliefs.

"Schizophrenics are violent": In most cases schizophrenics are more likely to withdraw and isolate themselves. In the very small proportion of people with schizophrenia that are violent, it is usually associated with inadequate services in the community and/or poor compliance with medication.

"Stress can cause schizophrenia": Stress in itself alone is unlikely to cause schizophrenia in the first instance, although a period of stress can precipitate an episode in someone who has already been diagnosed with the illness.

"Bad parenting causes schizophrenia": This myth dates back to the 1950’s and has no clinical grounding whatsoever.

"Schizophrenics are developmentally delayed and have a lower than average intelligence": As with any population, there is a variation in levels of intelligence. Cognitive impairments are seen in all domains of learning and memory in schizophrenia, but global mental impairment is not a characteristic of the illness.

Useful contacts and websites

Making Space: www.makingspace.co.uk
Tel: 01925 571 680

Mood Swings Network
Tel: 0845 123 650

Mind in Manchester: www.mind-in-manchester.co.uk
Tel: 0161 272 8204

Schizophrenia World: www.schizophrenia-world.org.uk

Sane: www.sane.org.uk
Tel: 0845 767 8000