Schizophrenia is complex. Here is a simplified explanation.
What it is:
Disorder of the brain. Smart folks like neurologists, and neuro-chemists can explain the dysfunction of the neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain of a person with schizophrenia but it’s infinitely complicated. Simply put schizophrenia is a real disorder of the brain and is typically identified by the following common symptoms:
- Delusions. Believing things that are not real is called delusions. An example of a delusion could be someone who believes they cannot go to the store because the UFO’s are watching them. Some delusions are quite bizarre and and others are more subtle and difficult to discern.
- Hallucinations. Seeing or hearing things that are not there is called hallucinations. Often people with schizophrenia hear voices. Some people describe voices as a mean play-by-play announcer saying things like “get some pizza, No! not that kind, throw it away, you’re an idiot.” The experience of hallucinations are a common part of the disorder but each person experiences them differently.
- Negative Symptoms. Along with delusions and hallucinations people with schizophrenia typically have what are called negative symptoms. Generally negative symptoms consist of a lack of motivation or energy. People with schizophrenia can come across as unemotional and disinterested. Important note: All symptoms vary in severity, the more severe a symptom the more it interferes with functioning. The list of symptoms associated with schizophrenia contains numerous variations and sub-types of these symptoms; explaining them all gets complex. Remember this is titled schizophrenia simplified.
Schizophrenia is treatable. There is no cure for schizophrenia but with a combination of medications and therapy, people with schizophrenia can manage the symptoms quite effectively. Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia make people suspicious of treatment and some of the medication used to treat schizophrenia have undesirable side effects; but despite the challenges most people find appropriate treatment helps them drastically improve functioning.
What it’s not:
Anyone’s fault. Saying someone has schizophrenia because they are evil or because their parents mistreated them is simply wrong. Schizophrenia is also not due to drug use.
Bums. Having schizophrenia doesn’t make people bums. Most people with schizophrenia are not homeless, most people who are homeless do not have schizophrenia.
Funny. Having schizophrenia is not funny. That is not to say that people with schizophrenia don’t have a sense of humor. They can certainly be funny and say funny things but make no mistake, having schizophrenia is not funny.
Safe or dangerous. Here is an important point given recent news stories. People with schizophrenia are not all safe. I know it’s not popular for mental health professionals to admit it but people with this illness have done terrible things. However, viewing all people with schizophrenia as dangerous is grossly irresponsible. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia do normal things like you; they work, play, have families, and respect others.
What to do:
Use the term appropriately. Knowing what schizophrenia is and isn’t, keeps you from sounding clueless. I have heard people say something like “I’m so schizophrenic -I’m a personal trainer and I just ate ten Oreos” contradicting yourself is not schizophrenia. Using the word schizophrenia correctly shows you are smart and not unknowingly disrespectful about a serious brain disorder.
Advocate for people to get help. If you or someone you know has symptoms described above please get help from a mental health provider. When you hear of people with schizophrenia who commit crimes, advocate for better availability of treatment. Actively work to end the stigma of mental illness and promote a culture of understanding and support.
Try empathy. Get to know people with schizophrenia as people. Learning about schizophrenia is interesting but is nothing compared to learning the amazing and inspirational stories of people. Go ahead give it a try; you’ll be glad you did. I’ve been forever changed by people I know who have schizophrenia.
Mental illness affects marriages in profound ways.
If your spouse has schizophrenia:
- Become aware of the unique way your spouse displays the symptoms of schizophrenia and the warning signs that may indicate symptoms will increase.
- Become integrated into their treatment. You shouldn’t try to be your spouse’s therapist, but you should be very familiar with their therapist. Get to know all the mental health providers working with your spouse including their psychiatrist.
- When things are going well, develop a procedure with your spouse that you can implement when symptoms get out of control. Crisis is no time to have a discussion, crisis is time for action and action is easier if it is pre-planned.
- Do things you enjoy together. Managing the symptoms of schizophrenia can be draining. Focus on the positive aspects of your spouse and your marriage, it will help you Make some Wonderful in your marriage.
Disclaimer: This is an informational resource from a mental health clinician with real life experience helping people with schizophrenia. For official diagnostic criteria check out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5)
What will you do now that you know more about schizophrenia?