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Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health problem that can manifest itself in many ways. Individuals with this disorder may hear voices other people don't hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated. People with schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk. They may sit for hours without moving or talking. Sometimes individuals with schizophrenia seem perfectly fine until they talk about what they are really thinking.

What characteristics are associated with schizophrenia?

Some individuals with schizophrenia have delusions; others have hallucinations; still others have delusions and hallucinations.

Delusions are described as false, inaccurate beliefs that a person holds onto to even when they are presented with true, accurate information. Individuals with schizophrenia can have delusions that seem bizarre, such as believing that neighbors can control their behavior with magnetic waves. They may also believe that people on television are directing special messages to them, or that radio stations are broadcasting their thoughts aloud to others. Sometimes they believe they are someone else, such as a famous historical figure. They may have paranoid delusions and believe that others are trying to harm them, such as by cheating, harassing, poisoning, spying on, or plotting against them or the people they care about.

Hallucinations are things a person sees, hears, smells, or feels that no one else can see, hear, smell, or feel. "Voices" are the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. Many individuals with the disorder hear voices. The voices may talk to the person about his or her behavior, order the people to do things, or warn the person of danger. Sometimes the voices talk to each other. People with schizophrenia may hear voices for a long time before family and friends notice the problem. Other types of hallucinations 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.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

The mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of schizophrenia by conducting a mental status examination and by taking a very careful personal history from the individual. It is very important not to overlook a physical illness that might imitate or contribute to a psychological disorder. If there is any doubt about a medical problem, the mental health professional will refer the individual to a physician, who will perform a physical examination and request any necessary laboratory tests. Schizophrenia tends to run in some families. A close relative of a person with schizophrenia is several times more likely to develop schizophrenia than the average person.

How is schizophrenia treated?

Schizophrenia is almost always treated with medications. In addition to medications case management is helpful to individuals with schizophrenia who are already stabilized on their medication by helping individuals deal with the everyday challenges of their illness, such as difficulty with communication, self-care, work, and forming and keeping relationships. Learning and using coping mechanisms to address these problems allow individuals with schizophrenia to socialize and attend school and work. Individuals who participate in case management also are more likely to keep taking their medication, and they are less likely to have relapses or be hospitalized.

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