All of us, somehow, have experienced hearing something only to discover nothing when we turn our heads. But not all of us experience hearing voices inside our minds that tell us to do something which turn us into monsters of sorts. Yet, it is unfortunate that there are people who go through life with such hallucinations. These are the people who are suffering from psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder which makes people hear voices not heard by other people or they may believe that others are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. These experiences can be terrifying to the person and may cause fearfulness, withdrawal, anxiety, or extreme agitation and depression. They may not make sense when they talk, may sit for hours without moving or talking much, or may seem perfectly fine until they talk about what they are really thinking of. Many people with schizophrenia have a hard time getting a job or find it difficult to take care of themselves, thus, the burden on their families and society is significant as well.
Schizophrenia usually occurs in men during their late teens and early 20’s while women start showing signs in their mid-20s to early 30s. Although cases of schizophrenia in children as young as 5 have been reported, they rarely emerge after age 45 and before puberty. First signs of the condition in adolescents can include a change of friends, a drop in grades, sleep problems like insomnia, and irritability. However, most normal adolescents exhibit these kind of behaviors as well, thus, a diagnosis at this stage can be very difficult.
There are three broad categories for the symptoms of schizophrenia:
Positive symptoms are easy-to-spot behaviors not usually seen among healthy people and often involve losing touch with reality such as hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, and disorders of movement. Positive symptoms can range from being mild to severe depending on whether the individual is receiving treatment.
A hallucination is something a person sees, hears, smells, or feels that others do not. Voices are the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. These voices may comment on their behavior, order them to do things, warn them of impending danger, or argue with each other. They may hear these voices for a long time before family and friends notice that something is wrong. Others include seeing people or objects that are not there, smelling odors that no one else detects, and feeling things like invisible fingers touching their bodies when no one is near.
Delusions are false personal beliefs bordering on the illogical and bizarre. Nothing can change these beliefs even when other people present proof that the beliefs are not true. People may actually believe that neighbors can control their behavior with magnetic waves, people on television are directing special messages to them, or radio stations are broadcasting their thoughts aloud to others. They may also have delusions of grandeur and think they are famous historical figures. They have delusions of persecution that others are deliberately cheating, harassing, poisoning, spying upon, or plotting against them or the people they care about.
People with schizophrenia often have unusual thought processes. They have disorganized thinking and find it difficult to organize their thoughts or connect them logically. Their speech may become garbled or hard to understand. They also experience “thought blocking,” in which the person stops abruptly in the middle of a thought.
People with schizophrenia can be clumsy and uncoordinated, exhibiting involuntary movements and may grimace or exhibit unusual mannerisms. They tend repeat certain motions over and over or, in extreme cases, may become catatonic. Catatonia is a state of immobility and unresponsiveness which was more common when treatment for schizophrenia was not yet available.
The term “negative symptoms” refers to reductions in normal emotional and behavioral states characterized by the following:
· immobile facial expression· monotonous voice
· lack of pleasure in everyday life
· diminished ability to initiate and sustain planned activity
· speaking infrequently, even when forced to interact.
People with schizophrenia often neglect basic hygiene and need help with everyday activities. Because it is not as obvious that negative symptoms are part of a psychiatric illness, people with schizophrenia are often perceived as lazy and unwilling to better their lives.
Cognitive symptoms are subtle and are often detected only when neuro-psychological tests are performed. They include the following:
· poor ability to absorb and interpret information
· poor decision-making
· inability to sustain attention
· poor ability to keep recently learned information
Cognitive impairments often interfere with the patient’s ability to lead a normal life and earn a living. They can cause great emotional distress and anxiety disorder.
Availability of treatments today can relieve many of the symptoms, but most people who have schizophrenia must cope with some residual symptoms for the rest of their lives. At any rate, patients and families should not lose hope since early treatment can help the patient recover a sense of normalcy in life.
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