Schizophrenia - A Little Understood Mental Illness That Affects 1.1% of the Population Worldwide - By: Stephen Daniels

Schizophrenia, the literal translation of which is "split mind", was called "multiple personality" for many years. However, this rare condition is now known as "dissociative identity disorder" and refers to an entirely different illness than what is presently known as schizophrenia, a devastating and painful mental disorder faced by one in every 100 Americans.

Mental health studies show that schizophrenia typically first shows up in young adults, between the ages of 17 and 35, with males generally exhibiting symptoms at an earlier age than females. Because of the age range during which the disorder first presents, it is sometimes confused with "normal" adolescent angst. When several behavioral changes occur and continue for more than six months, however, a medical consultation should be scheduled.

Some of the early warning signs of this disease include hyperactivity, paranoia, inappropriate emotional responses, sleep disorder, unwarranted hostility, disregard of personal hygiene and appearance and other uncharacteristic behaviors.

Schizophrenia is generally divided into four categories, although the lines of demarcation often overlap. Paranoid-type schizophrenia is characterized by auditory, visual or olfactory hallucinations, often accompanied by feelings of persecution or the type of delusion that causes a patient to believe he is a person of power and influence. This type also often exhibits anxiety, anger, hostility and extreme anti-social behavior.

Specialists also list catatonic schizophrenia as a widely seen manifestation of the disorder. This type expresses itself in movement, or lack thereof. The patient might flail about, repeat the same gesture endlessly or use his body in unnatural ways. Others will remain motionless for hours, repeat anything that is said to them, or display other bizarre physical behavior. In many ways, this can be the most debilitating form of the disease, since it leaves patients unable to provide daily care for themselves.

Another severe manifestation of the disorder is called disorganized or hebephrenic schizophrenia. This is marked by inappropriate, senseless speech and behavior, often combined with angry, agitated activities that may also hamper patients' ability to care for themselves and interact with others.

Residual schizophrenia is the final subtype of this ailment, characterized by less symptomatic behaviors. Although delusions and hallucinations may still be present, they are not as debilitating as they are in the acute phase. Symptoms range in severity from the need for constant custodial care to gainful employment and maintenance of a productive family life. Most cases, however, lie somewhere in the middle, requiring occasional hospitalizations and continuous medical support.

Regardless of the category, schizophrenia is a lifelong disease that is much more prevalent in urban areas than rural. At least this is convenient for patients and their families, since ongoing treatment is essential for entire lifetimes, once the illness is diagnosed.

Treatment depends on the symptoms exhibited by the sufferer and can vary from patient to patient. However, in general, psychiatrists combine medication, individual counseling and group therapy to incorporate many methods. In addition to the patient's treatments, the immediate family also needs the attention of a mental health professional to learn about the best ways to work with their suffering loved one.

The disease places an enormous emotional burden on family members, often causing enough guilt, sorrow, bitterness and other negative feelings to cause dissolution of families, unless they receive the proper timely support. Help can be found for those with schizophrenia and their families from assorted mental health workers, including doctors, case workers and social workers, all of whom can help control the vagaries of each individual patient.

The most common problem arises when a medicated patient declares himself "cured" and stops taking his meds, leading to an inevitable relapse. Seeking the services of a psychiatrist who specializes in this insidious mental disorder is one of the most important steps in helping your loved one live a more normal, productive life.

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