What comes to mind when you think about schizophrenia? Pop culture has helped perpetuate myths and stigmas about schizophrenia and its symptoms.
Rethink Mental Illness shared a study that surveyed 1,500 people about schizophrenia. It showed that the disorder is widely misunderstood. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the disorder affects about 1% of the American population. However, 45% of those surveyed by Rethink Mental Illness thought the illness was much more common. Half of the people surveyed thought the illness was defined by a split personality, and about a quarter believed it led to violent behavior.
“It’s about time we all got to grips with what schizophrenia is and what it isn’t,” said Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness. “Schizophrenia can be treated and managed, just like many other illnesses. It’s not a dirty word or, worse, a term of abuse.”
To understand schizophrenia, it’s important to know what the disorder is, its symptoms and the treatment options.
“To tackle the stigma that so many living with schizophrenia face, we have a huge task ahead of us in informing and educating the public,” said Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. While schizophrenia can occur at any age, the average age of onset tends to be in the late teens to the early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women.
For a person to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, symptoms should be present for at least six months.
According to NAMI, symptoms are:
- Hallucinations: these include seeing, hearing, or smelling things other people can’t perceive.
- Delusions: these are false beliefs that do not change regardless of new facts presented to those affected.
- Negative Symptoms: these often diminish a person’s abilities and are sometimes confused with clinical depression. They may include being emotionally flat or speaking in a disconnected way.
- Cognitive Issues: people often struggle to remember things, organize their thoughts, or complete tasks.
As with most mental illnesses, it requires a health care provider to diagnosis schizophrenia after a full psychiatric assessment. According to NAMI, diagnosing the disorder can be challenging since many people who have schizophrenia do not believe they have it.
The misconceptions about the disorder and lack of awareness about common symptoms can complicate diagnosis. People may describe the way they experience symptoms of schizophrenia differently, which can lead to misdiagnosis.
Causes of Schizophrenia
Research shows that genetics, brain chemistry, substance misuse and environment can all cause schizophrenia. While only 1% of the population lives with schizophrenia, the chances of having the disorder are higher for those who have a family history of psychosis. According to NAMI, schizophrenia occurs in roughly 10% of people who have a family member with the disorder.
A variety of environmental factors may lead to schizophrenia. These include exposure to viruses, malnutrition before birth, complications during birth and psychosocial factors.
While there is no cure for schizophrenia, antipsychotic medications, psychotherapy and self-management strategies can help those affected manage the disorder.
Doctors often work with patients to find the best medication, or medication combination and the right dosage. Instead of going through a lengthy trial and error process, doctors may opt to use genetic testing, which can aid in finding treatment plans to help patients feel better.
If you have a loved one who is living with schizophrenia, NAMI shares a couple of ways you can help. Encourage your loved one to get treatment and help them stick with it. Research support groups in the area and attend a session with them. Try to remain supportive, respectful and kind without tolerating any dangerous behavior.
How Can Genetic Testing Help Schizophrenia Treatment?
The Genecept Assay® is a genetic cheek swab test that looks at key genes in your DNA that can affect how you respond to medication for schizophrenia. It identifies patient-specific genetic markers that can indicate for your clinician which treatments are likely to work as intended, have no effect, or cause adverse effects.