Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness, though not common, and is well known due to its aggressive and bazaar exhibitions of behavior at times. A person with Schizophrenia cannot control their emotions or behaviors as if someone else has power over their body. To make matters worse, they often experience hallucinations and delusions, seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and feeling things that are not there but which seem real to them. They cannot tell the difference between the real and the unreal. Whatever occurs within their delusion or the experience occurring within the hallucinations is genuine and as real as the earth beneath their feet is to them.
Due to the intensity of the hallucination experience, you cannot tell them that what they are seeing is not real, and the hallucination will magically disappear. The only way to help them is to use a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and coordinated specialty care that helps them learn to cope with the outside world.
Recognizing the signs of Schizophrenia is important so treatment can get started quickly. Usually, symptoms start around age 16 and up to age 30. Very rarely does Schizophrenia occur in children under 16. The following symptoms are common with Schizophrenia:
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things not there) or Delusions (believing in things not real)
- Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional thinking) such as A+ B doesn’t = C; they equal China.
- Movement disorders (agitated body movements)
- A “flat affect” (reduced expression of emotions – monotone voice; blank face)
- Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
- Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities
- Reduced speaking
- There may be a decrease or change in memory function; it could be subtle or significant.
- Poor “executive functioning” (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)
- Trouble focusing or paying attention
- Problems with “working memory” (the ability to use the information immediately after learning it)
How can you help someone you know with Schizophrenia?
Caring for and supporting a loved one with Schizophrenia can be hard. Knowing how to respond to someone who makes strange or clearly false statements can be difficult. It is important to understand that Schizophrenia is a biological illness.
Here are some things you can do to help your loved one:
- Get them treatment and encourage them to stay in treatment
- Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them
- Tell them that you acknowledge that everyone has the right to see things their way
- Be respectful, supportive, and kind without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behavior
- Check to see if there are any support groups in your area
Schizoaffective disorder and Schizophrenia are not the same. Whereas Schizophrenia is characterized by bizarre behavior, including hallucinations and delusions, schizoaffective disorder is more complex. Schizoaffective disorder comes across as much like a mood disorder as a behavior disorder. Symptoms of mania and depression are just as common as those of hallucination and delusions, and frequently a combination of all four is present.
Since the schizoaffective disorder is rare (represents only 3% of all mental health diagnoses), the condition is frequently misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. Although the mood swings create confusion, the rest of the symptoms follow the pattern of Schizophrenia. Here are some of the symptoms seen with this diagnosis:
- Hallucinations -seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.
- Delusions – False, fixed beliefs held regardless of contradictory evidence.
- Disorganized thinking – Switching topics quickly from one to another or providing completely unrelated answers.
- Depressed mood – Experiencing feelings of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, or other symptoms of depression.
- Manic behavior – Experiencing feelings of euphoria, racing thoughts, increased risky behavior, and other symptoms of mania.
Making a diagnosis of the schizoaffective disorder requires that an individual meet the following criteria:
- A period during which a significant mood disorder, either depression or mania, occurs while symptoms of Schizophrenia are present.
- Delusions or hallucinations for two or more weeks without a major mood episode.
- Symptoms of a major mood episode are present for most of the duration of the illness.
- Drug use or medication effects are ruled out as the cause of symptoms.
Treatment for Schizoaffective disorder includes medications, psychotherapy, and self-management training.