Health A-Z

Understanding Schizophrenia

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Imagine being trapped in a cage, with your hands and legs tied up and chained to a wall, and losing control of your mind all at the same time. You can’t move…

I knew I had it. I had known for years. The boa of psychosis had become a familiar tightness in my head. I thought it was an awful waste of time and suffering to take so long to diagnose me. By this point, I was homeless and had ruined the majority of relationships with family. I’d tried to kill myself. I had been mistreated in hospitals and in school. I’d been through so much and after all this time I’d finally figured out what it was ~Syrena Clarke

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition, and easily one of the most misunderstood conditions in its category. It is like being imprisoned by your own mind, not being completely in control of your thoughts and your person. A person with schizophrenia could see things and hear voices that aren’t really there. I remember listening to a patient who was trying his best to describe how he had been hearing two voices talking about him in his head for 4 months, non-stop. The only break he got was when he slept, and, as with many schizophrenics who are going through a period of psychosis, sleep is often a luxury hard to come by. He would yell ‘STOP’ most of the time, but that never really helped. All it ever succeeded in doing was attract unwanted negative attention to himself in public. I still can’t get over how distressed he was as I was trying to imagine what it would be like hearing two voices having conversations about me continuously in my head. By the way, this is called the ‘Third Person Hallucination’.

Coming from an African background, I’m very well aware of the stigma that surrounds schizophrenia (even in the western world), and it wasn’t until my 4th year in medical school that I got the opportunity to truly understand what the condition is really about. During my Psychiatry rotation, I got the opportunity to interact with real people with schizophrenia and got to understand what life is like for them living with the condition. It’s honestly like any other chronic medical condition- you’re ill, you get a flare up, you take medications to feel better, and the cycle repeats.

Due to wrongful media portrayals, schizophrenia patients are often perceived as unseen monsters that are safely locked away in militarized institutions. As long as we don’t have to see them, we don’t have to deal with them, right? This manner of thinking couldn’t be more damaging. The reality is, mental illness can affect anyone. ~ Alex

Schizophrenics are well able to live not just normal lives, but occupy high functioning positions in many jobs and corporate organisations just like anybody else. Here is a list of famous people who suffered from schizophrenia.

Here are a few quick facts about schizophrenia:

  • It’s a chronic mental health condition usually characterized by periods of psychosis, change in behaviour and distortion in thought. In most cases, it can result in a deterioration of normal functioning during the period.
  • Symptoms are grouped into positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disorganised speech, and distortion in behaviour. Negative symptoms include anhedonia, flattened affect, avolition, alogia, and asociality.
  • The diagnostic criteria requires that 2 or more of the symptoms mentioned above be present for at least 1 month, and at least one of the symptoms must be either delusions, hallucinations or disorganised speech.
  • The causes of schizophrenia are not well understood but research has shown that there is increased activity of a chemical (neurotransmitter) in the brain called dopamine. Cannabis use in teenage years has also been shown to increase risk of psychosis and schizophrenia. It can also be as a result of certain medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, vitamin B12 deficiency, brain cancer, epilepsy, Wilson disease and so on.
  • Having schizophrenia increases the risk of suicide attempts, relative to the general population.
  • Treatment usually involves hospital admission as well as treatment with medicatons called atypical antipsychotics. Additive psychosocial treatment could involve Congenital behavioural therapy (CBT) and social skills training.

There is something unsettling about the ambiguity of mental health. The brain is of course steeped in mystery; a complex organ we have less understanding of than any other organ in our body, the core to one of life’s greatest mysteries – life itself. Fear often always follows the unknown, the misunderstood and from experience fear has always followed mental health. ~Milly

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Dr Wendy Evans-Uhegbu

The author Dr Wendy Evans-Uhegbu

Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, Medical Communications, and Web Design/Development. She is a part of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She is also a Medical Writer at 3D4 Medical and runs a Medical Communications and Children's books company (ODR Integrated Services/ ODR Books).  She is the author of the newly published children's book series "The Things Around Me".

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