What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder, characterized by profound disruptions in thinking, affecting language, perception, and the sense of self. It often includes psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices or delusions. It can impair functioning through the loss of an acquired capability to earn a livelihood, or the disruption of studies.
Schizophrenia typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. Most cases of schizophrenia can be treated, and people affected by it can lead a productive life and be integrated in society.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia affects 1 in 100 people and occurs in every race, culture and socio-economic group. It occurs equally in men and women. In Canada, approximately 300,000 people live with the disease, of which 120,000 live in Ontario. The disease usually begins when people are in their teens or early twenties, although it can occur later in life. Because it strikes young people in their formative years, it is often referred to as "youth's greatest disabler."
Men usually develop schizophrenia at an earlier age than women. In most cases, schizophrenia begins gradually - so much so that it is often months or years before the individual or their family recognizes that something is wrong. With some people, however, the onset can be very rapid.
Currently, researchers do not know the exact cause or causes of schizophrenia but know that there are several contributing factors. It is known that genetics play a role. While we do know that someone who has a relative with schizophrenia has a greater chance of developing the disease than someone who does not, genetics does not account for all cases of schizophrenia. Researchers are also looking at viruses that may affect brain development during the second trimester of pregnancy.
How is Schizophrenia Treated?
Schizophrenia is treatable; however, because the disease varies in severity from one person to another, the intensity of treatment will vary. Some people will require hospitalization during the course of their illness - some for longer periods than others - while others can effectively receive treatment in the community.
To take into account the broad range of issues that families and individuals living with schizophrenia and psychotic illnesses may encounter, treatment is defined broadly in this context to include:
Psychiatric treatment such as medication, hospital-based care, care by a psychiatrist, etc.
Community services such as counselling, community-based mental health care services and programs such as ACT teams, peer support programs, etc.
Social support such as housing, income, employment support, etc.
Treatment and medication is a trial and error process, usually involving a number of attempts and adjustments before the right treatment is found. Even when the right combination of therapy and medication is determined, individuals with schizophrenia often experience relapse and may require extensive support to adhere to the treatment plan. Relapse in symptoms and treatment non-adherence are very common and are a natural part of the recovery process.
What are the Chances for Recovery?
Schizophrenia is a chronic illness - most who are diagnosed will require various levels of treatment for most of their lives: 30% recover quite well and are eventually able to resume their previous level of functioning; 30% recover to a lesser extent, but are usually able to live independently: 30% require extensive help, such as living in supportive housing or in a care facility. Sadly, the remaining 10% do not survive schizophrenia, usually due to suicide.