Psychosis is a debilitating mental condition that alters how a person thinks, perceives the world and ultimately how they feel, behave and function. Psychosis may be caused by a psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It can also be caused by brain injury, infection or substance abuse. Symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and /or bizarre behavior. Onset generally develops slowly over several months or even years and typically occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood. Psychosis can impact all facets of a person’s life, such as career, education, relationships and employment. Each year about 12 of out every 100,000 people in Ontario will experience their first episode of psychosis and the overwhelming majority of them will be adolescents and young adults between the ages of 14 and 35 (Jablensky, et al., 1992 ; Ministry of Health and Long Term Care: Early Psychosis Intervention Program Standards, 2011).
What is Schizophrenia?
- Schizophrenia is a chronic but highly treatable brain disease
- Schizophrenia is a chronic illness – most people who are diagnosed will require various levels of support for most of their lives.
- Schizophrenia affects everyone – it occurs in every race, culture or socio-economic group. It occurs equally in men and women.
- People can – and do – get better with the help of:
- Family and friends
- Community-based services, social and peer supports, counselling and crisis services
- Doctors, medications, hospitals
- Healthy lifestyle, exercise and healthy eating
- Employment and education
- Supportive housing
View an inforgraphic with information on schizophrenia here
What Causes Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia occurs in every race, culture and socio-economic group. It occurs equally in men and women. In Canada, more than 360,000 people live with the disease, of which 140,000 live in Ontario
. The illness 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.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia and Psychosis
- The first sign of schizophrenia is often psychosis, a mental condition altering a person’s ability to perceive reality
- Other symptoms can include profound disruptions in thinking affecting language, perception and sense of self as well as psychotic experiences, e.g., hearing voices, hallucinations or delusions
- Cognitive symptoms include difficulties with attention, concentration and memory.
- Schizophrenia can also impair brain functioning, affecting a person’s ability to integrate well into their social environment, i.e. earn a livelihood and maintain healthy relationships
How is Schizophrenia Treated?
Schizophrenia varies in severity from one person to another, and treatment will often depend on an individual’s personal health and needs. 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.
Families and individuals affected by this illness require a broad range of support, depending on the issues that they encounter. Treatment can include:
- Psychiatric treatment such as medication, hospital-based care, support and care provided directly by a psychiatrist, etc.,
- Psychosocial therapies. SSO provides Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for psychosis (CBT-p) workshops for caregivers and professionals
- Community supports and services such as counselling, community-based mental health care services and programs such as ACT teams, peer support programs,
- Social supports such as housing, income assistance and employment support,
Treatment and medication is often 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 can experience relapses and may require additional support to follow their treatment plan. Relapse in symptoms and treatment non-adherence are very common and are a natural part of the recovery process.
Health Quality Ontario has developed helpful guidelines for care detailing how to best support adults with schizophrenia in the community they live in as well as in the hospital, when needed. You can find more information about these here
Chances for Recovery?
- 3 in 10 people recover quite well and are eventually able to return to resume their previous lives
- 3 in 10 people recover to a lesser extent, but are usually able to live independently
- 3 in 10 people require more extensive help, such as living in supportive housing or in a supportive care facility
- Sadly, the remaining 10% do not survive schizophrenia and usually die due to suicide
Recovery and living well with this is illness is now considered to be a realistic possibility. Rather than a total lack of symptoms, recovery means living well with the illness.