A disturbance of thought often marked by delusions, hallucinations, self-neglect and paranoia.
Causes of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is considered a disorder of brain chemistry. Probably there is disease in the system of neurotransmitters -chemicals through which one nerve communicates with another. Of these, the dopamine system is most suspected.
It has a strong hereditary tendency, with a chance of about one in seven to ten of the offspring of a schizophrenic parent developing it – a much greater than average risk. There are similarly increased risks if a sibling has the condition.
Although most psychiatrists accept that environment and upbringing also play a role in schizophrenia, it has been hard to prove scientifically and many such theories have largely been abandoned for lack of evidence.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
In its mild form the individual simply seems a little eccentric: a loner, poor at socializing, reticent and wary of eye contact. This is the schizoid personality and may progress no further: such individuals often find solitary occupations and lead a quiet, withdrawn life.
if the condition worsens schizophrenics start to experience bizarre events, voices commenting on their behaviour and hallucinations. Thinking becomes disordered: certain ideas become absolute certainties resistant to any reasoning. For example, a schizophrenic may be convinced that radio waves are being emitted by a light switch and influencing his mind and that his own thoughts are being broadcast to the world at large. These are termed delusions, unshakeable beliefs based on no objective evidence. There is a strong feeling of being under the control of others, be it voices from the television or a central heating unit or just vague, menacing ‘others’.
This paranoia is a common feature of schizophrenia, as is depression and extreme anxiety. These symptoms increase the chances of schizophrenics becoming aggressive towards their supposed persecutors or harming themselves, and suicide is a risk. As the disease deteriorates there is disintegration of the personality and increasing self-neglect.
Treatment of Schizophrenia
Drug therapy has revolutionised treatment since chlorpromazine was first discovered 40 years ago. Various drugs control symptoms in individuals who would otherwise languish in institutions or drift on to the streets. These drugs are given by mouth or injection to ensure reliability of dosage. New drugs such as olanzapine are freer of side effects. Schizophrenics cannot cope with normal stresses of life; calm, orderly and careful handling is important, at home or in hostels.
Up to 40% of schizophrenics have just one episode of schizophrenia and return to normal life eventually. Pointers to eventual full recovery are if the condition came on rapidly and was accompanied by minimal hallucinations or delusions, and the patient had a previous reliable personality within a stable family. About 10% of schizophrenics remain seriously disturbed despite treatment. The rest will experience relapses from time to time. Severely paranoid schizophrenics may pose a major risk to the safety of others and may remain so dangerous that they have to stay in special secure psychiatric prisons.
Families need much support in caring for schizophrenics, whose bizarre, unpredictable behaviour strains family loyalty.
Warning: Visualisation, hypnotherapy and deep relaxation techniques, including chakra balancing, are extremely dangerous for schizophrenics and should never be used except by people trained in psychiatry. They bring about altered states of consciousness and schizophrenics have reported seeing lights and disturbing visions during treatment. Complementary approaches cannot cure schizophrenia. Yoga and tai chi/chi kung are calming forms of exercise which might benefit schizophrenics. Reflexology, massage and aromatherapy are generally supportive.