While you may be familiar with the term, the actual definition of schizophrenia differs greatly from what most people perceive.
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Movies and television have played a big part in making schizophrenia seem like a murderer’s illness, attributing it as the cause for extreme outbursts and the reason behind some of the most demented and violent crimes.
In truth, schizophrenia is not simply an illness that causes people to go out and commit violent crimes. It’s a complex illness, with many branches on its tree. While it may sound scary to hear this, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1 percent of the population will experience a form of schizophrenia in their lifetime. That equates to roughly one in every 100 people.
That means the odds are good that you likely have, or will, know someone in your lifetime who suffers from schizophrenia. It’s important to understand that this is an ailment, like any other illness. There are factors that increase the likelihood of getting it, but virtually everyone is at risk.
So what is schizophrenia? How does it affect someone’s day-to-day life? Should I be worried if I know someone who has it?
Understanding What It Is
First, schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder. Its symptoms usually begin between the ages of 16 and 30 in men and women, although children can also be affected. The underlying cause is unknown.
While violence is commonly associated with it, medical studies published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in June of 2002 indicate that only a small fraction of violent crimes are committed by people with schizophrenia.
Common symptoms of schizophrenia are delusions, thought disorders, hearing voices, hallucinations, movement disorders and emotional disorders. Schizophrenia borders on the same symptoms as many other mental ailments, such as chronic depression, which makes getting a proper diagnosis all the more important.
Symptoms are not always apparent when meeting someone with the illness. Sometimes it won’t become apparent until you actually talk with them or you observe unusual behavior. He or she might appear listless or unhappy with day-to-day life.
Sometimes a person might make comments or remarks that are strange or even impossible to comprehend. A person with motor disorders might repeat the same actions over and over again or appear to be in a constant state of discomfort.
How Schizophrenia Affects Someone’s Life
The illness is almost always treated with medication. The goal of treatment is to manage and eliminate many of the symptoms. While there is no cure for schizophrenia, people who have sought treatment can still lead good lives.
People who suffer from schizophrenia may suffer social and work-related difficulties due to both the public conception of their illness as well as the side effects of it. Employers may be hesitant to hire someone who suffers from schizophrenia, making it difficult to find work.
It can also alienate them if their condition becomes public knowledge, which can make socializing with others difficult.
Should I Be Worried If I Know Someone With Schizophrenia?
It is important to stress that people who suffer from this illness can manage their symptoms with medication. They aren’t dangerous and they aren’t “ticking away”; they are people just like you and me.
It’s no different than treating your diabetes with insulin shots. Every day, they take their medication and go about their normal lives.
While I can’t tell you whom to keep as a friend, I hope you’ll try to be understanding of their situation. Take a moment to imagine you just learned someone you’ve known for a long time suffers from this illness. Would it really change the way you feel about them? You’ve been friends a long time. Would you really feel right distancing yourself from them?
There is still a lot we don’t know about schizophrenia. It’s an illness that has been around almost as long as the common cold and much like the cold, many of its mysteries have yet to be unraveled.
People who suffer from schizophrenia are no different from you and me. They want to live their lives as best as they can.
We can only hope that someday we’ll live in a world without this terrible illness. Thankfully, people who suffer from it now have plenty of treatment options available to them.
So don’t be intimidated the idea of running into a schizophrenic. They might just surprise you with how ordinary they really are.