What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a medical illness that causes strange thinking, strange feelings, and unusual behavior. It is an uncommon psychiatric illness in young teens and is hard to recognize in its early phases. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling mental illness. It affects men and women with equal frequency.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
- Social withdrawal
- Depersonalization (intense anxiety and a feeling of being unreal)
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of hygiene
- Hallucinations (eg, hearing things not actually present)
- The sense of being controlled by outside forces
- Trouble telling dreams from reality
- Seeing things and hearing voices, which are not real
- Confused thinking
- Vivid and bizarre thoughts and ideas
- Extreme moodiness
- Odd behavior - Ideas that people are "out to get them"
- Behaving like a younger child
- Severe anxiety and fearfulness
- Confusing television with reality
- Severe problems in making and keeping friends
*People with schizophrenia may also experience relatively passive phases of the illness in which they seem to lack personality, movement, and emotion (also called a flat affect). People with schizophrenia may alternate in these extremes. Their behavior may or may not be predictable.
What are the types of schizophrenia?
How does schizophrenia affect behavior?
- Paranoid-type schizophrenia is characterized by delusions and auditory hallucinations but relatively normal intellectual functioning and expression of affect. The delusions can often be about being persecuted unfairly or being some other person who is famous. People with paranoid-type schizophrenia can exhibit anger, aloofness, anxiety, and argumentativeness.
- Disorganized-type schizophrenia is characterized by speech and behavior that are disorganized or difficult to understand, and flattening or inappropriate emotions. People with disorganized-type schizophrenia may laugh at the changing color of a traffic light or at something not closely related to what they are saying or doing. Their disorganized behavior may disrupt normal activities, such as showering, dressing, and preparing meals.
- Catatonic-type schizophrenia is characterized by disturbances of movement. People with catatonic-type schizophrenia may keep themselves completely immobile or move all over the place. They may not say anything for hours, or they may repeat anything you say or do senselessly. Either way, the behavior is putting these people at high risk because it impairs their ability to take care of themselves.
- Undifferentiated-type schizophrenia is characterized by some symptoms seen in all of the above types but not enough of any one of them to define it as another particular type of schizophrenia.
- Residual-type schizophrenia is characterized by a past history of at least one episode of schizophrenia, but the person currently has no positive symptoms (delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech or behavior). It may represent a transition between a full-blown episode and complete remission, or it may continue for years without any further psychotic episodes.
The behavior of those with schizophrenia may change slowly over time. For example, those who used to enjoy relationships with others may start to become more shy or withdrawn and seem to be in their own world. Sometimes they will begin talking about strange fears and ideas. They may start to cling to parents or say things, which do not make much sense. The person's schoolteachers may first notice these early problems.
I think I might be schizophrenic. What should I do?
Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric illness. Early diagnosis and medical treatment are important. If you have the problems and symptoms listed above, you must have a complete evaluation. Usually you need an individual treatment plan involving other professionals. A combination of medication and individual therapy, family therapy, and specialized programs (school, activities, etc.) is often necessary. Psychiatric medication can be helpful for many of the symptoms and problems identified. These medications require careful monitoring by a psychiatrist.
Where can I find support groups and counseling?
- Schizophrenics Anonymous is an organization devoted to support of the person with schizophrenia.
- Outside support for family members of those with schizophrenia is necessary and desirable. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is an in-depth resource. This outreach organization offers information on all treatments for schizophrenia, including home care.
- Another organization that can be useful for both people with schizophrenia and their families is the National Mental Health Association or one of its state or county chapters.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)