Schizophrenia: Split Personality? No.

Hey, thank you for visiting my blog. Just a quick note, my blog is primarily based on personal views and experience, sometimes referring to research and some background information, with the aim of helping anyone who may be suffering, or know of anyone suffering from a mental health illness. I would welcome any advice and feedback on my blogs, or your personal thoughts on the topic.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a word formed from two Greek words meaning ‘split’ and ‘mind’, leading to the common misconception of schizophrenia as having a ‘split mind’ or ‘split personality’. However, this is not the case. Schizophrenia is a mental health illness that involves a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behaviour, leading to a range of different symptoms (discussed below).

Around 1 in 100 people are affected by schizophrenia, with typical age of onset of symptoms being between the ages of 18 and 35. Men and women are found to be affected just as equally by schizophrenia, although men are usually found to be diagnosed at an earlier age. There is also found to be higher prevalence rates found in those living in urban (rather than rural) areas, and amongst ethnic minorities. There are many causes of schizophrenia, that are discussed below.

How does it affect an individual (i.e. symptoms)?

In schizophrenia, there are both positive and negative symptoms. ‘Positive’ symptoms can be described as symptoms in addition to normal experience; and ‘Negative’ symptoms describe a lack of normal experience.

Positive Symptoms of Schizophrenia:

  • Hallucinations – a sensory perception experienced in the absence of an external stimulus (can be a visual, tactile, or auditory hallucination).
  • Delusions – a false belief about external reality despite evidence to the contrary, e.g. paranoid delusions or delusions of persecution (the false belief that you are being harmed by a particular person or group of people); delusions of reference (the false belief that people or a particular person is constantly referring to you); somatic delusions (the false belief that your body is somehow diseased, damaged, or abnormal; delusions of grandeur (the false belief that you are a superior being).
  • Thought Disorder – g. disorganized speech, pressure of speech (speaking very quickly), derailment or flight of ideas, thought blocking; use of ‘word salad’ (switching topics randomly in conversation, with no link).
  • Disorganised or abnormal motor behaviour – giddiness, excitement, irritability, agitation, catatonia (marked decrease in movement).

Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia:

  • Blunted or flattened affect – periods of low mood.
  • Alogia – inability to speak because of mental deficiency, mental confusion, or aphasia (problems using language correctly).
  • Avolition – lack of initiation (of activities) or motivation (to complete tasks).

 How is one diagnosed with schizophrenia?

Usually symptoms are first witnessed by family and friends, who would notice an observable difference in your behaviour. The first step would be to visit a GP if you think you or someone you know has any change in behaviour that is quite significant, or peculiar. The GP would then carry out a physical assessment to ensure that any physical illnesses can be ruled out. If necessary, they will then refer you to a mental health professional who will carry out an in depth assessment to determine a diagnosis. Several medical professionals may also be involved in your diagnosis and treatment plan.

There are several different types of schizophrenia, and your diagnosis will be based on your symptoms, and the severity of your particular symptoms. A diagnosis is usually given following an observation, it may involve some brief tests, and interviews with those who know you (i.e. family, friends, carers, etc.)

What causes schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but it is believed that a combination of genetic, physical, psychological, and environmental factors are involved in the development of schizophrenia. There is evidence that schizophrenia tends to run in families, but no specific gene has been found to be the contributing gene for schizophrenia.

Some studies have found differences in the brain structure of individuals with schizophrenia compared to typically developing individuals. There is also evidence that too much dopamine (a neurotransmitter (chemical) in the brain) may be involved in the development of schizophrenia. However, research in these areas is sparse, and much more research evidence is needed in these specific areas.

Highly stressful or life changing events may trigger the onset of schizophrenia. Any significant life events could possibly cause schizophrenic symptoms, particularly for those who are already predisposed (prone – through genetics) to the development of the illness.

Substance use is also known to be a cause of the development of schizophrenia. Some substance users (particularly those using cannabis and cocaine) may develop schizophrenic symptoms, whilst those with schizophrenia who use substances may experience more intense or severe symptoms.

How is one’s life affected by schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia can affect every part of an individual’s life. The delusions and hallucinations experienced by someone with schizophrenia can be so severe and intense, and can feel so real, affecting your thoughts and behaviour. It’s hard to imagine how much such an illness can really affect an individual, unless you yourself are diagnosed with schizophrenia, or you know someone who has been affected by the illness. Just as with any other mental health illness, or physical illness, schizophrenia is a diagnosable and treatable illness. Individuals with schizophrenia will need help, support and guidance in their day to day lives, and the level of support will depend on the severity of their symptoms.

What help is available?

The usual form of help is a combination of medication and therapy. Care is usually provided from a team of health professionals working in alliance to provide the best form of care available, combining medication, therapy, and support.

The typical form of treatment available is medication. There are many different types of medications that may be prescribed to you, depending on the severity and type of schizophrenia (and symptoms) that you have. The usual form of medication provided for schizophrenia is antipsychotics. These are to control the ‘positive’ symptoms experienced (explained above). There are many different types, and the most suitable form for an individual is usually decided by the individual and their GP. However, there are side effects to medication, which would be discussed by your prescribing GP.

You may also be offered a form of therapy to help determine some effective coping mechanisms to deal with your symptoms. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that is found to be most effective, and has no side effects. The therapy aims to look at how an individual thinks, and how this affects their behaviour. However, sometimes an individual’s symptoms can be so severe, that a form of medication may be needed in order to relieve feelings of anxiety and distress first. Psychological therapy can be effective in developing coping mechanisms to deal with the symptoms experienced; to help with any stress; and to help with any depressive or anxiety related feelings associated with schizophrenia. Family Therapy is also available to help families cope with the stress of such a diagnosis on a family member, and to help the family as a whole develop some coping mechanisms. Art therapies (painting, music, etc.) are also found to be an effective form of therapy, particularly as a coping mechanism.

There are also support groups, counselling services, activity groups, etc. that can all be extremely supportive and helpful for those with schizophrenia (and family, friends, carers, etc.). These can be accessed through your GP, and more information can be found on the internet about the particular services available in your area.

I have written this particular blog simply to inform people about Schizophrenia, what it is, what it’s like to live schizophrenia, and the forms of treatment available. I hope that this blog has been informative, and that people understand the disorder better. Help can be found from your GP; and further information about the condition can be found through these well-informed websites listed below:

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/schizophrenia/about-schizophrenia/#.VzI_Zr7MuV4

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/conditions/schizophrenia

Please do ask any questions or suggest any topics that you would like me to discuss – I’ll do my best to deliver! I thought that I would try a different layout in this blog post – let me know what you think! Thank you for reading!

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