Disorders and Treatment
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Schizophrenia is one of the most devastating and debilitating forms of mental illness. Classified as a psychotic disorder, it afflicts approximately 1% of the world’s adult population. Historical documents suggest that schizophrenia has plagued mankind for thousands of years.
This disorder was given its name by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in the early 1900s. Literally translated, the word "schizophrenia" is Greek for "split mind". Because of this, many people mistakenly believe it refers to someone with multiple personalities. Bleuler’s intent, however, was to depict the schizophrenic individual’s "split" from reality and the disordered or "broken" thought processes that characterize this disorder.
For a description of a mental illness in which a person has multiple personalities, see Dissociative Disorders.
Schizophrenia usually develops in the early to mid-20s in males, and the late twenties in females. However, it can develop at any stage in life including mid-life, adolescence and even early childhood.
With schizophrenia, individuals may exhibit a variety of symptoms. They are categorized as either "positive" or "negative".
Positive symptoms involve normal functions (e.g. language, perception) that are very distorted or exaggerated. They include:
Schizophrenia symptoms often negatively impacts many, if not all, aspects of a person’s life – their thoughts, actions, perceptions, social interactions, and ability to do normal day to day tasks. It is not uncommon for individuals with schizophrenia to become socially withdrawn, paranoid, erratic, or extremely agitated, especially when their symptoms are untreated or if they discontinue their current treatment.
Since the symptoms of schizophrenia can vary significantly from one case to the next, there are currently five different subtypes. Each schizophrenia subtype is based on the predominant symptoms.
Research has not yet provided a definitive cause for schizophrenia. While the disease is believed to be primarily biologically based, several factors are believed to play a role in the development of the disorder.
Schizophrenia is diagnosed by a qualified mental health or medical professional. In many cases, a family member or close friend notices the unusual or bizarre symptoms and initiates an evaluation. Lab tests, drug screening, and / or x-rays are often part of the diagnostic process to first rule out other potential causes for the unusual symptoms.
While lab tests can rule out other possible conditions, there are currently no medical tests to diagnose schizophrenia. The psychiatric assessment includes interviewing and observing the patient, as well as obtaining additional information from family members, others who know the patient, and /or past treatment providers and psychiatric records if available.
Signs of the disorder must be present for at least 6 months in order to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. If symptoms typical of schizophrenia have been present for less than 6 months, the most likely diagnoses are schizophreniform disorder or brief psychotic disorder.
As mentioned previously, there is currently no known cure for schizophrenia. However, appropriate treatment can help reduce and alleviate symptoms in most cases. Although each person responds to treatment differently, some individuals with this disorder are able to live productive lives if they stick with their prescribed treatment regimen.
Treatment often involves a combination of medication and psychosocial treatments. Many schizophrenic patients also require hospitalization if they are highly symptomatic. Hospitalization allows the patient to be stabilized in a safe, secure environment under close medical supervision.
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