Schizophrenia can be one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. Although it affects about 1% of American adults, many people do not know much about it. Or they think to do it, but their ideas about it are not correct.

"The picture of schizophrenia in popular culture usually concerns the most severely disabled, often violent patients, and they are not usually like that at all," says Ben Weinstein, MD, chairman of the board. psychiatry at the Houston Methodist Hospital. Schizophrenia also does not mean that someone has a dual personality.

It's not a unique set of experiences. "If a person with schizophrenia has had good treatment and is well controlled, it may seem a little out of sync at times, but you may not even know they have it," says Weinstein. But for those who do not have access to the medications and care they need, or those who stop treatment, schizophrenia is devastating.

The exact combination of symptoms and their severity can vary considerably from person to person. It depends on their genetics, their environment and the question of whether medication or get another treatment such as therapy, Says Weinstein. But there are some common things that people who have this disease tend to live on.

Getting help may be delayed

Tina Collins, 53, of Baltimore, says that she was extremely anxious and that she had her first seizure at 14 years old. "When I started having hallucinationsit was the end of the 70s and there was not much recognition mental illnessespecially among young people, "she says. She says that it took decades to get a diagnosis because of the stigma that accompanies this disease. "Nobody wanted to talk about it. Because I've always had anxiety and other symptoms, my family would say, "Oh, she's always like that, she'll be fine."

Matthew Dickson, now 47, from New Brunswick, Canada, began to show symptoms as early as 17 years old. (Schizophrenia usually begins around the end of the year. teens early 20's, but it can also happen later.) He did not know what was happening to him. "I talked to people about some of my feelings, but I had no idea what was a mental illness. I still managed to go to school and even bike across Canada, but at the end of the last quarter of my last year at university, I hurt myself. When Dickson began to fear that he was killing himself, he finally asked for help and started treatment.


As there is no screening test for schizophrenia, the first step in diagnosis is to rule out other conditions, says Russell Margolis, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center. He notes that some of the symptoms may be similar to those of depression and dementia, or that another disease might be to blame. "There may be a mood disorder or a delusional state caused by an acute medical problem, "he says.

To diagnose schizophrenia, a person must have problems in everyday life – at work or at school, relationships, or tasks such as dressing and taking care of oneself – and also having a group of three types of symptoms: positive, negative and cognitive. And in this case, "positive" and "negative" do not mean what you might think.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia positive?

It is simply an experience experienced by a person with schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, delusionsunusual physical movements and illogical thoughts. "These are as real for the person with schizophrenia as if someone entered the room and started talking to you," says Weinstein.

Collins describes his hallucinations before the start of his treatment. "The room would become dark and people would get deformed and start looking demonic," she recalls. "If I looked in the mirror, my face would be demonic – I thought I was the ugliest person in the world." vision and hearing began to change, making it extremely difficult to understand the world. "It was like an Alice in Wonderland," says Collins. "Everything became bigger, smaller, stronger, quieter; my ability to process the information that went through my senses began to deteriorate. "

Dickson says that he never saw visions but that he felt so "static" in his brain that he could not concentrate or concentrate. "It's like watching a movie in a war zone and bombs explode, and chaos is total."

Collins and Dickson both describe living with constant noise in the head. "I've heard a lot of clicks and detonations. I took it for granted that it was the world, and everyone other knew how to operate there, but I could not do it, "says Collins. She also remembers seeing a "shadow man," a hallucination common.


Hallucinations "are often auditory [something you hear] but can be accompanied by smells, visions and tastes, "says Margolis. When the brain tries to understand all this false information, it is possible that some outside forces – such as the government, a family member or even a chip implanted in the brain – are trying to get them, although none of this be true.

Positive symptoms can also include delusional "trippy" ideas. "During my worst year, I remember going for a walk and thinking: if I stopped walking here, then I stayed still, turned around, and I was walking in the other direction, I could go back in time, "says Dickson.

What do the negative symptoms of schizophrenia look like

While positive symptoms may come to mind when you think about schizophrenia, the negative symptoms are often the most debilitating, causing people to quit their work, their studies and everything else that matters to them in life, makes Weinstein remarked.

"The negative symptoms are the absence of a certain pouffe in life, lack of interest, motivation and motivation, "says Margolis. "At the limit, it can be someone who hardly speaks, who stays at home and does little or nothing."

"When I looked at the world around me, it was like I was watching TV," says Dickson. "We feel like we are completely cut off." Does he remember reading a description of the 2001 movie A beautiful spirit, About the mathematician John Nash, who had been fighting schizophrenia for decades: "Nash is said to have lived a" ghostly existence ", and I can certainly associate it with that. You feel helpless, you lose your sense of self. "

For Collins, his inability to interact with the world was related to his perception problems. "If I tried to cross the room, it was as if my feet were falling through the ground, "she says. "The boundaries keep changing and dissolving, so that your ability to function physically, cognitively and emotionally has completely disappeared. I could not even talk for years. It was as if my voice had been swallowed deep within me. I called her as being in the black box: I wanted to go out, but I could not get out of the traffic jam running through my head. "


What are the symptoms of cognitive schizophrenia like?

A person with these symptoms may have trouble concentrating, concentrating, assimilating new information and using it. Their brains process information more slowly, their memory declines, and they often have trouble reading and understanding social cues, Weinstein explains. Although these symptoms may be aggravated by cerebral "traffic" caused by positive symptoms, cognitive decline is a symptom in itself, says Margolis.

"Even dressing up was a very complicated process for me," Collins says. "It's like a traffic jam of information coming in and out of your brain, so it's like everything's always new, you do not remember the process."

Dickson described having had the impression that his brain was constantly assaulted. "My analogy is that if you play football with friends and the ball hits you, can you really make algebra in your head at that moment? I was a pretty smart guy, but when you're sick of what I had, you really can not do a lot of deep intellectual thinking. "

Recovery by treatment

Although schizophrenia is not cured, medications and therapy can handle the symptoms. Consistency is the key: without treatment, the symptoms reappear. This can lead to an extreme downward spiral for those who dispense the medications and care they need.

After many years of treatment, Collins and Dickson came out one of the other.

"I was lucky to find doctors who thought I could get better," Collins says. "It took ten good years of therapy and medication to actually develop the skills of daily living, but you can do it. I always have residual symptoms, but I do not have any hallucinations anymore. "

Dickson explained that his healing was a slow and slow process, helped by the fact that he desperately wanted to get better and that he was very careful to always take his medication. "Every week, over the last 25 years, I have seen a gradual improvement in my health and I have finally recovered," Dickson said. He decided to pay for it by creating a non-profit organization to help bring mental health resources to people in third world countries.



Ben Weinstein, MD, president of psychiatry, Houston Methodist Hospital.

Tina Collins, Baltimore.

Matthew Dickson, New Brunswick, Canada.

Russell Margolis, MD, Clinical Director, Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center.

National Institute of Mental Health: "Schizophrenia".

Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communication: "Exaggerations and stereotypes of schizophrenia in contemporary films"

American Psychiatric Association: "What is schizophrenia?"

National Alliance for Mental Illness: "What is schizophrenia?"

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