Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with acute mental illness may seem to have lost touch with reality.
The symptoms of Schizophrenia can vary widely from person to person, but they often include:
- Delusions: False beliefs that are not based on reality. For example, someone with Schizophrenia may believe that they are being followed, that they have special powers, or that someone is trying to hurt them. These are paranoid delusions.
- Hallucinations: Sensory experiences that are not real. For example, someone with Schizophrenia may hear voices, see things that are not there or smell things that no one else can smell. For these people, the sensory experiences are actual.
- Disorganized speech: When someone’s speech becomes chaotic and difficult to understand. People with Schizophrenia may make up words, jump from one topic to another, or need help staying on track. “Word salad” is a term used to describe a chaotic and confusing mixture of words and phrases that lack coherence and meaning. Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are usually characterized by disorganized thinking and speech.. In general, word salad refers to a language that is difficult to understand and appears random and nonsensical.
- Thought disorder: This is when someone’s thoughts become disorganized and illogical. They may need help thinking clearly or making decisions.
- Negative symptoms: These are symptoms that involve a loss of normal function. People may have difficulty expressing emotions, lack interest, or neglect themselves..
For patients and loved ones struggling with Schizophrenia, many resources are available to help. Here are a few places to start:
- NAMI is a national organization dedicated to supporting people with mental illness and their families.. You can find more information on their website at http://www.nami.org.
- SARDAA provides support and resources to people with Schizophrenia and their families.. You can find more information on their website at http://www.sardaa.org.
- The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The NIMH is a federal agency researching mental illness. You can find more information on their website at http://www.nimh.nih.gov.
It is important to re-emphasize that these hallucinations and delusions to the patient. As a young mental health worker in a psychiatric hospital, I interviewed new patients to identify symptoms.. The interview is a mental status exam that follows a group of prescribed questions for the patient.
On many occasions, I would ask patients if they heard voices in their heads even though no one was there. Repeatedly, the patient would state that they had never had that experience. I soon learned that they denied the symptom because, to the patient, they truly did not hear voices from people who were not present. However, if I asked if voices on the radio or television were speaking to them, the answer was yes.
Psychoses are rooted in genetics. It is not uncommon for the inheritance of these genes to skip a generation so that the parents of a psychotic son or daughter may not have the illness. In addition, out of a group of siblings, only one inherits the gene that leads to bizarre symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for psychoses. However, medication can control and reduce the symptoms. One problem is that this antipsychotic medication has side effects. One of the major side effects is Tardive Dyskinesia.
Tardive Dyskinesia is a condition that affects the nervous system and can cause involuntary movements in various parts of the body. Long-term use of certain meds can cause side effects.. The symptoms of Tardive Dyskinesia can range from mild to severe. They can include repetitive movements of the mouth, tongue, or face and jerking or twisting movements of the limbs or torso. Some medications are used in conjunction with antipsychotics to reduce Tardive Dyskinesia.
An additional side effect of antipsychotic medications is their sedative effect, making patients feel tired and want to sleep.
The side effects cause many patients to become no compliant with their medications. As a result, non-compliant patients drop out of their mental health and psychotherapeutic support programs. More than a few of these people join people without homes living on the streets. In addition, some of these people begin self-medicating with addictive drugs. Many psychotic patients go in and out of the hospital, leading to a cycle of medication and non-compliance..
People with psychotic mental illnesses can return to work and become productive members. Compliance with medications and social support is necessary for this outcome..
Psychosis does not exemplify all or even most people experiencing homelessness. Still, people with Schizophrenia and drug addiction describe many of them.
Touched with Fire is an autobiographical book by Kay Redfield Jamison, a brilliant Clinical Psychiatrist. The book is the first in a collection of books authored by Dr. Jamison. Touched with Fire is a brutally honest description of her struggles with psychotic symptoms when she began her career. Her diagnosis is Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic features. I highly recommend this book to those of you who want to learn more about the powerful effect psychosis has on people.