What is Schizophrenia? Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that most people in American society do not understand. Why? I believe that the fear, myths and stigma that surround this condition keep most people at arm’s length. We fear what we do not understand.
For example, many people think that people living with Schizophrenia are:
In any case, the bullet points above are a list of many (but not all) of the most common myths surrounding Schizophrenia. During my 13 years as a counselor and coordinator at ShelterCare, I had the experience of working with many individuals who live with Schizophrenia. I’ve found that people living with this condition are some of the most stigmatized and misunderstood people in our society.
Okay, so what is schizophrenia? First of all, it’s important to understand that Schizophrenia, like most other mental health conditions, is best thought of on a spectrum (based on intensity, frequency, duration, and impact on one’s functioning). Don’t think of people as either having Schizophrenia or not. Furthermore, some people who have delusions or auditory/visual hallucinations do not suffer from Schizophrenia or any of it’s closely related conditions--Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizophreniform Disorder, and more. There are medical reasons, extreme stress responses, and other factors that may explain these symptoms for some people.
Having said that, there are a few key features to the condition known as Schizophrenia. In order for someone to meet the diagnostic criteria, there must be the presence of two or more of these active symptoms
In addition, the following ‘Negative Symptoms’ include
The term negative symptoms refers to conditions that imply the absence of something. Notice that the four symptoms above all have this in common.
Also, I must emphasize that this is a list of possible symptoms. No one person has the same set of symptoms. If you were to meet ten people who were in an active phase of Schizophrenia, you would see ten different presentations. Just like any other group, persons living with this condition are very individual, one from another. The question of 'What is Schizophrenia?' has no simple answer.
For more information on what constitutes the condition we call Schizophrenia, and what differentiates it from other somewhat related conditions, check out this link at Mental Health America.
Well, consider what it would be like trying to work at a job (or go to school, or have an intimate relationship) while hearing voices or believing that the radio is talking to you specifically. This would be terrifying by itself, but imagine having to function in society with a condition like this! To state that it would be difficult is an understatement (although many people are able to do it to some degree).
Would you call such a person crazy? I would call such a person brave and resilient.
For some anecotes from persons living with the condition, click here.
Needless to say, having a loved one who suffers from this condition can be very hard. You are worried about your loved one’s condition, but possibly also having a very difficult time living harmoniously with him/her. It’s very important to not take things personally, even if the behavior is directed at you. A wonderful resource for family members of people living with Schizophrenia (and other mental health issues) is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Known as NAMI, this wonderful organization is found nationally and here in Lane County at the local level, and provides education, advocacy, and active support for individuals living with Schizophrenia and their families.
One thing I've seen consistently over the years is this: the support of family and friends can make or break someone's ability to cope with Schizophrenia. If your loved one has Schizophrenia or another mental health condition on the Schizophrenia Spectrum, any support and love you can give is important. At the same time, try to focus on what you can control, and understand that you cannot make someone be better, healthier, or whatever you might want them to be. Consider getting support for yourself, or by all means go to NAMI!
For more information for family members and loved ones, click here.
….schizophrenics. Think about it. Someone living with Schizophrenia could be a parent, a son or daughter, an artist or construction worker, a Christian or Buddhist, etc. The person is more than their condition. Language is important. That’s why I do not call someone a schizophrenic. I encourage you not to as well.
Are you (or your loved one) self-medicating with drugs or alcohol in order to cope with delusions and/or hallucinations? Wondering where to start to get help for yourself or your loved one? Is it better to start by dealing with the mental health issue or the substance abuse?
These are all normal questions to ponder.
My experience tells me to encourage people to start with whatever issue they feel most ready to address. There are numerous resources for mental health and alcohol/drug treatment. If you live in Lane County, consider using this link in order to access a good list of services.
In addition, WhiteBird’s HELP Directory (a book, not found online) is excellent, and can be found at most social services agencies in Lane County, and certainly at WhiteBird itself.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are in a mental health crisis in Lane County contact the WhiteBird Crisis Line at 541-687-4000. If you are having major medical issues such as acute withdrawl, detox, or severe intoxication from drugs or alcohol, call 911, as this is a medical emergency!
What is Schizophrenia? I hope that this page has helped you to learn more about this and related conditions, and inspired you to find out more about this and all conditions on the Schizophrenia Spectrum. Check out this link for more excellent information about this condition.
Another great link within WebMD, one that addresses the myths and facts in more detail can be found here.
How common is Schizophrenia? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the prevalence of Schizophrenia in the USA is about 2.2 million people.
Worldwide, it is estimated that about 51 million people suffer from this mental health condition (according to Schizophrenia.com).
What is Schizophrenia? It’s a very serious mental health condition, but one that people can live with. There is hope….and speaking of hope, I hope that the information on this page has created a desire for you to learn much more about this condition. The more we know, the more we can support those suffering from this difficult condition and fight the stigma that surrounds it.