Schizophrenia: The Overrated Disease That Ordinary People Know Nothing About
They are often unfairly called “psycho,” “schizo,” “weirdo,” “nutter,” and “loony." They are people who are doomed to suffer from schizophrenia, a widespread mental illness that, according to the World Health Organization statistics, affects more than 21 million people worldwide (12 million males and 9 million females). Despite being a severe form of mental illness, schizophrenia is a treatable disorder and people suffering from this disease aren’t disabled.
Unfortunately, people with schizophrenia experience human rights violations both in communities and inside mental health institutions. This contributes to discrimination, low self-esteem, and a lack of health care, housing, education, and employment opportunities. Whether you or someone close to you suffers from this severe disorder, it’s time to open your eyes and learn the truth about schizophrenia and everything related to it. When treated correctly, schizophrenia is not as disastrous and dangerous as it seems.
Definition, Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors
Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental disorder that has a negative impact on how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. A person with schizophrenia behaves as if they’ve lost touch with a real world and dive into their own one. Even though schizophrenia isn’t as typical as many other mental disorders, everyone can be prone to it.
A study conducted by Rethink Mental Illness in 2015 showed that 9 out of 10 patients with schizophrenia fail to live their lives like ordinary people. The stigma is still high and the society is not ready to accept a schizoaffective disorder. Many with schizophrenia confess that they don’t get the right amount of support and they always feel rejected and isolated. The study proved that people with schizophrenia can study, work, travel, build relationships, be a part of a social life, exercise, and overall lead healthy lifestyles – just like you and I. Awareness is what the society needs today. So what are the causes, symptoms and risk factors of schizophrenia?
The Major Causes and Risk Factors of Schizophrenia
The one real cause of schizophrenia hasn’t been proven yet. Researchers believe biology (abnormalities in the brain’s structure or chemistry), genetics (heredity), immune disorders and viral infections are the major causes of this mental disorder. Contrary to popular myths, schizophrenia is never caused by poor parenting, abuse, bad childhood experiences, lack of self-worth and willpower, and any other common situations you experience in your daily life. Mostly, it’s all about heredity and biology.
Biology: Some researchers suppose that schizophrenia occurs because of the abnormalities in the person’s brain’s structure. While in the womb, the fetus faces the problems with the development of pathways and connections in the brain, and this can lead to a mental disorder later in life.
Chemistry: Another group of scientists found that people suffering from schizophrenia have a drastic imbalance of the neurotransmitters or brain chemicals, such as serotonin, glutamate, and dopamine, which let nerve cells in the brain send signals to each other. The drastic imbalance of these neurotransmitters leads to the uncommon ways the brain reacts to stimuli, including bright lights and loud music. People with schizophrenia have trouble processing different sights, sounds, tastes and smells so it often leads to delusions or hallucinations, thus a bit psycho behavior.
Heredity: Researchers showed that schizophrenia has a tendency to run in the families, so you can inherit it from your parent, grandparent or anyone else who suffered from this mental disorder in the past. Like any genetically-related illness, schizophrenia may not be seen in the childhood – only in a rare situation. You can start noticing the disease after a highly stressful event in your life, or during the puberty when your body undergoes physical and hormonal changes. It typically develops till the 30s.
Environmental event: Immune disorders and viral infections can also trigger schizophrenia. For example, if a pregnant woman gets cold and flu, she increases the risk of developing schizophrenia in her child later in life. If you were once or twice hospitalized for severe infections or a serious immune disorder, you are at a high risk of schizophrenia as well. Psychosocial factors, problems during birth, and malnutrition before birth are other risk factors for the disease.
The Early Signs and Most Common Symptoms of Schizophrenia
As scary as it sounds, but you may start noticing the first signs of schizophrenia at the age of 14; in rare cases in childhood or adulthood. The signs of a mental disorder are different for everyone and sometimes they may be similar to other diseases, including anxiety and depression, which is why it’s impossible to make a precise diagnosis without proper medical examination. If you experience several of the following early signs for more than two weeks you must consult a doctor and start a treatment immediately. The earlier you begin, the better.
The most common early signs of schizophrenia are:
- Feeling like you are constantly being watched
- Seeing and/or hearing something that doesn’t exist or is not there
- Nonsensical or weird way of writing or/and speaking
- Feeling indifferent to dangerous situations and important events
- Sudden changes in a body language
- Deterioration of work or/and academic performance
- Drastic personality changes
- Changes in appearance and/or personal hygiene
- Constant social withdrawal and isolation
- Poor concentration
- Fearful, angry, or irrational response to people you love
- Bizarre or inappropriate behavior
- Sudden and extreme interest in the occult or religion
The most common symptoms of schizophrenia fall into 3 categories: negative, positive, and cognitive. The negative symptoms are similar to those associated with chronic anxiety and depression, but they take the form of more deep feelings. They are associated with disruptions to normal behaviors and emotions. If not treated well, the negative symptoms can turn into positive ones, which are characterized by the psychotic behaviors that healthy people never experience. If you have positive symptoms you feel like you have lost most aspects of reality. The cognitive symptoms are severe and you may have serious problems with thinking and memory.
The negative symptoms include:
- Emotional flatness (no voice tone and facial expression)
- Extreme apathy (no feelings of pleasure in a daily life)
- Speaking issues
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Poor activity
The positive symptoms include:
- Movement disorders
- Disorganized behavior (uninhibited and impulsive actions, unprovoked outbursts, hygiene problems and trouble choosing appropriate clothes for the certain weather condition, etc.)
- Hallucinations (hearing imaginary voices, smelling, seeing and tasting something that doesn’t exist, and feeling the things healthy people can’t feel)
- Thought disorders (dysfunctional or bizarre ways of thinking)
- Disordered speech (creating unusual word combinations, changing the topic in a nonsensical way, making new sounds and words)
- Delusions (believing that someone is watching you or that you’re a religious figure, a celebrity or a politician)
The cognitive symptoms include:
- Difficulty understanding information and using it to make both easy and serious decisions
- Difficulty using information right after hearing or learning it (poor working memory)
- Difficulty paying attention and focusing
- Poor concentration
Treatment, Recovery and Rehabilitation
According to the World Health Organization, patients with schizophrenia are 2 to 2.5 times more likely to die earlier than healthy people. This is typically because of poor treatment and physical illnesses, such as infectious, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Over 50% of patients with schizophrenia aren’t receiving a good care, support, and treatment.
Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, this disease is treatable and patients can lead fulfilling and productive lives. Unfortunately, most of them have lack access to treatment and the disease becomes chronic and more severe. The problem is, the old-style mental hospitals often don’t provide the treatment that patients with schizophrenia need and a lack of support of family members makes them feel outcasts. It’s important to seek professionals and check out each prescription they make.
Treatments help to relieve and eliminate the symptoms of schizophrenia and they usually include:
- Psychosocial treatment, which is used after an effective medication is found. This treatment involves learning and developing the skills that help people with schizophrenia live a fulfilling life – go to school, college, university and work as well as travel and vacation. Patients who get a regular psychosocial treatment are less likely to be hospitalized or have relapses, and they are more likely to live like ordinary people.
- Antipsychotic treatment is a must-follow since it helps keep the symptoms of schizophrenia under control and reduce the risk of relapse. Antipsychotic medications help to prevent the biochemical imbalances that lead to schizophrenia, albeit you should never take them without consulting a professional. Antipsychotics can have a number of serious side effects that range from blurred vision, dry mouth, constipation, dizziness and drowsiness to pacing, muscle control, facial tics, and tremors. It may take a lot of time and experiment before you and your doctor will figure out the right medication and dose for you.
- Choosing the right antipsychotic medications. There are three types of antipsychotics: atypical antipsychotics, typical antipsychotics, and miscellaneous antipsychotic agents. Atypical antipsychotics are used to treat the negative and positive symptoms of schizophrenia and have minimal side effects. The most used atypical antipsychotics include Lurasidone, Iloperidone, Clozapine, Cariprazine, Ziprasidone, Risperidone, Quetiapine, Brexpiprazole, Asenapine, Paliperidone, Olanzapine, and Aripiprazole. Typical antipsychotics are effective in treating confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. The most used typical antipsychotics include Trifluoperazine, Perphenazine, Thiothixene, Mesoridazine, Thioridazine, Haloperidol, Fluphenazine, and Chlorpromazine. Miscellaneous antipsychotic agents are used to treat agitation in patients with schizophrenia. The most popular one is Loxapine.
Rehabilitation helps people with schizophrenia boost their confidence levels and improve the skills needed to live an independent and productive life in the society. It’s provided through a host of services, including:
- Housing programs (24-hour support and supervision);
- Case management (financial assistance, service access, and a range of other help);
- Drop-in centers (informational support, socialization, and communication);
- Crisis services (in-patient hospitalization, residential placement, after hours counseling, and 24-hour hotlines);
- Coordinated specialty care (psychosocial therapies, medication, family involvement, case management, and supported employment and education services);
- Counseling (informational help, communication and “talk” therapy);
- Self-help groups (support, communication, and informational help);
- Psychosocial rehabilitation programs (mastering a wide variety of life skills, including stress management, problem-solving, socializing, shopping, budgeting, cleaning, cooking, and career, among the others).
The First Few Steps After Discovering a Diagnosis
If you’re sure you have schizophrenia, it’s critically important that you:
- Consult a doctor immediately. It’s best to talk to a few doctors, if possible.
- Inform your family about your disease and make sure they visit your doctor for further information in case of an emergency;
- Stay in treatment;
- Accept the services provided for people who have schizophrenia;
- Don’t isolate yourself. Remember you can keep living an ordinary life.
- Provide the information about your disease to all people you know so that they know that you are not a psycho but suffer from a disease just like other people with cancer or any other mental disorder.
If your loved one or someone you know suffers from schizophrenia, make sure you:
- Encourage them to receive and stay in treatment;
- Encourage them to live a productive life;
- Support them;
- Don’t laugh at their hallucinations and odd behavior;
- Don’t judge;
- Don’t avoid them;
- Don’t tolerate inappropriate or dangerous behavior;
- Be kind to them, even if they are not kind to you;
- Get involved in counseling or any other source of support.
Living With Schizophrenia
7 Diet Tips for People With Schizophrenia
While schizophrenia is treated through psychotherapy and medications, it’s vital to watch what you put into your body. Certain diet tweaks may help you relieve some symptoms of schizophrenia and strengthen your immunity. Here are a few diet tips to consider:
1. Lower your caffeine, sugar, salt, and carbohydrate intakes
Many medications used to treat schizophrenia mess with the blood sugar, especially when you eat sugary foods high in carbs or caffeine. By eliminating caffeine, sugar, salt, and carbohydrate from your diet (or at least limiting your intake of them), you will keep your glucose level under control. Avoid candies, soda, bread, crackers, coffee, fruits and vegetables with a high glycemic level, and sugary and salty treats. Talk to your doctor about a low-carb or Ketogenic diet. Both diets are recommended for people suffering from schizophrenia.
2. Boost your antioxidant intake
Antioxidants are known for their powerful cancer-fighting properties, but they also help combat some symptoms of schizophrenia. Since a disease causes an elevated oxidation in the brain, consuming antioxidants on a daily basis (but in moderation) can help solve the problem. Beans, apples, berries, pecans, carrots and plums are just a few sources of antioxidants. Each patient has their own set of antioxidant-rich foods. Create your own one with your doctor.
3. Avoid eating burnt and fried foods
The over-roasted potatoes, burnt toast, and over-grilled vegetables might be tasty for healthy people, but they’re not good for you. They increase the oxidation in the brain and can cause many other health concerns.
4. Munch on the foods rich in essential fatty acids
Since people with schizophrenia have a low level of essential fatty acids in their brains, maintaining a healthy level of these fatty acids in the body is vital. Not only do they help you control your symptoms, but also increase a memory and brain function. Olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish are all great sources of essential fatty acids.
5. Reduce your gluten consumption
Many people with schizophrenia develop a gluten sensitivity that can worsen the symptoms. Wheat, barley, rye, and their byproducts, as well as many packaged foods such as cereals, bread, soy sauce, baked goods, crackers, and alcohol, contain gluten, so read the labels carefully.
6. Never skip your meals
A nutrient-packed meal will keep your body functioning for hours, giving you enough energy for undergoing treatments. Each meal should consist of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and this is where a professional nutritionist must help you. They will create an eating plan specifically for your body. It would be better if they create a weekly grocery shopping list for you as well.
7. Be careful with supplements
Supplements may seem like a quick way to get all the nutrients you need. However, they can do more harm than good. Supplements aren’t controlled by the FDA and many contain harmful chemicals, such as artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, toxic heavy metals, and titanium dioxide, among the others. The solution? Aim to get your nutrients from the whole foods instead.
Yoga and Schizophrenia
A research conducted by the Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, in India, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410202/) showed that yoga is effective and feasible as an add-on therapy for people with schizophrenia. It can help improve cognition, stimulate neurobiological changes, such as elevated oxytocin levels, and overall increase quality of life. Many doctors recommend their patients with schizophrenia and other mental diseases to perform the simple asanas daily.
Consider practicing breathing techniques like Anuloma, Kapalbhati, and Bhastrica, meditation, and asanas such as Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana Janu Sirshasana), Plough Pose (Halasana), and Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana).
As you see, it’s possible to live a happy life even with a disease like schizophrenia. Just get all the treatments needed, don’t isolate yourself, and allow your family to support and help you. Also, spread a word and let others know that schizophrenia doesn’t mean the end of life.
Questions & Answers
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