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Posted by Tammy ( on January 04, 2002 at 22:52:36:

In Reply to: schizophrenia posted by sailpappy on January 04, 2002 at 12:06:38:


Introduction | Symptoms of schizophrenia | What are the 'causes' of schizophrenia? | Diagnosis of schizophrenia | Medications for schizophrenia | Psychosocial treatments | How families and friends can help


Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness, and is probably the most distressing and disabling of the severe mental disorders. The first signs of schizophrenia typically emerge in adolescence or young adulthood. The effects of the illness are confusing and often shocking to families and friends. People with schizophrenia suffer from difficulties in their thought processes, which lead to hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, and unusual speech or behaviour. All these symptoms mean that people affected with the illness become limited in their ability to interact with other people, and often withdraw from the outside world. Contrary to popular belief, people with schizophrenia do not have 'split personalities', and the great majority of people who suffer from schizophrenia are not dangerous to others. People with schizophrenia are far more likely to be victims of violence and crime than to commit violent acts themselves.

Most people with schizophrenia suffer throughout their lives, thereby losing opportunities for careers and relationships. As a result of the lack of public understanding about the disease, people with schizophrenia often feel isolated and stigmatised, and may be reluctant or unable to talk about their illness. While the availability of new treatments with fewer side effects has improved the lives of many people, even now, only one person in five can be said to 'recover' from the illness, and one in ten people with schizophrenia commits suicide.

Of all the mental illnesses, schizophrenia is probably the most difficult for everyone involved. Patients clearly suffer great disruption to their lives. However, families and friends may also be deeply affected, due to the distress of seeing the effects of the disease on their relative, and as a result of the burden associated with supporting the patient. Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be especially difficult for family members who remember how active or vivacious a person was before they became ill. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, some people still believe that schizophrenia is caused by poor parenting or weak will power. This is not the case. Schizophrenia is a complex illness, which is thought to be due to a number of different factors acting together. These factors seem to include genetic influences, trauma (injury) to the brain occurring at or around the time of birth, together with the effects of social isolation and/or stress. Other effects may also be important, but no one factor can be said to be the cause of schizophrenia. Rather, each of these factors is thought to increase the risk that a person may develop symptoms.

Schizophrenia affects between 1 and 2% of people during their lifetime. Schizophrenia is found all over the world, and rates of illness are very similar from country to country. Schizophrenia is the single most destructive disease to young people. Men and women are at equal risk of developing the illness. Whereas most males become ill between 16 and 25 years old, most females develop symptoms between ages 25 and 30. Medications and other treatments for schizophrenia, when used regularly and as prescribed, can help reduce and control the distressing symptoms of the illness. However, some people are not greatly helped by available treatments, or may prematurely discontinue treatment because of unpleasant side effects or other reasons. Even when treatment is effective, persisting consequences of the illness (such as lost opportunities, stigma, residual symptoms, and medication side effects) may be very difficult for patients and may prevent them living a normal life.

Substance abuse is a common concern of families of people with schizophrenia. Since some people who abuse drugs show symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, people with schizophrenia can be mistaken for people 'high on drugs'. People who have schizophrenia often abuse alcohol and/or drugs, and may have particularly bad reactions to certain drugs. Substance abuse can also reduce the effectiveness of treatment for schizophrenia. Stimulants (e.g., amphetamines and cocaine) can cause major problems for patients with schizophrenia, as may PCP or marijuana. In fact, some people experience a worsening of their schizophrenic symptoms when they are taking such drugs. Substance abuse also reduces the likelihood that patients will follow the treatment plans recommended by their doctors.

The most common form of substance use disorder in people with schizophrenia is nicotine dependence due to smoking. The prevalence of smoking among people with schizophrenia is about three times that in the general population. However, the relationship between smoking and schizophrenia is complex. Although people with schizophrenia may smoke to self medicate their symptoms, smoking has been found to interfere with the response to antipsychotic drugs, so patients who smoke may need higher doses of antipsychotic medication.

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