What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a very misunderstood mental disorder. Many people believe it to refer to a ‘split’ or multiple personality. However Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler derived it from a Greek term that translates to ‘split mind’. He was referring to the split or separation of personality from reality.

Sufferers experience varying episodes of psychosis along with confusion and reduced or flattened emotions and motivation. The World Health Organisation calls it one of the 10 most debilitating conditions man can experience. It affects roughly 1% of the Australian population.

Schizophrenia is often feared as sufferers are often believed to be violent. This is a myth. Violence is not a symptom of the condition at all, however sufferers may also have other disorders associated with violence. So much stigma makes daily life even more challenging for those with the condition as well as their families. Suicide rates are noticeably higher for sufferers than for the general population.

The condition is also often confused with other disorders such as Schizotypal Personality Disorder (STPD) and Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD). Those with STPD avoid or fear other people whereas those with SPD have a fear of expressing emotion. Both are disorders in which the person’s personality development was disrupted during their formative years. Some people with these conditions may later develop Schizophrenia.


What causes Schizophrenia?

There is no singular cause of Schizophrenia. What is known is that those with a history of the condition in their family have a 10% risk of developing it too. However, that is not automatic. Many other factors also come into play.

Changes in the development or function of the brain’s chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) can have a big effect on mental function and behaviour patterns. These changes may be triggered by genetics, trauma or environmental influences.

Some research shows that complications during pregnancy and childbirth may increase the risk for the child in later life. Another potential cause is drug abuse, in particular hallucinogenic drugs.

What is known is Schizophrenia is not caused by poor parenting or personal weakness.


What are the most common symptoms?

As the symptoms vary so widely some experts believe it is more like a syndrome or a collection of symptoms rather than a singular disorder. They also overlap with a number of other conditions so diagnosis is not usually made until after 6 months of observation.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic condition that sufferers experience with varying intensity over the cause of their life. It has both positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are present when they should be absent and are not necessarily good. Negative symptoms are absent when they should be present. They are not always bad either.

Positive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations – seeing, hearing or otherwise sensing things that aren’t there such as hearing voices.
  • Delusions – believing things that are not true. For example, sufferers may believe they are invincible.
  • Confusion – lacking the ability to think or remember things clearly. This may also include losing physical coordination.

Negative symptoms:

  • Lack of emotion or expression. The sufferer may still feel these feelings internally but be unable to show them.
  • Lack of motivation including self-neglect. This can be perceived as laziness but is a result of decreased energy.
  • Social withdrawal. Due to internal turmoil and social stigma.
  • Loss of hope for the future leading to despair and depression.


What are the main treatment options?

While there is no ‘cure’ for Schizophrenia, early diagnosis and treatment greatly improves the outcome and quality of life for sufferers. Treatment usually involves several health care professionals and approaches. Initially a GP may make the diagnosis and create a personal mental health care plan for their patient.

Medication is often used to help manage the symptoms of psychosis and depression. In some cases, hospitalisation may be required, especially if the person is suicidal. However most cases can be managed effectively though a combination of medication and counselling or therapy.

The most successful forms of therapy for Schizophrenia are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Family Therapy and Art Therapy.

Professional counsellors use CBT in one-on-one sessions with the sufferer. Together they explore and reflect on the underlying thoughts and beliefs that may be affecting the person’s current behaviour. Once these are identified, the counsellor can help guide the person to find new ways to deal with different situations. As Schizophrenia affects everyone around the sufferer, it is often beneficial to involve family and friends in the therapy process. Many may need help themselves to cope with the situation.

Sometimes it can be difficult to express emotions in words. Art Therapy provides people with Schizophrenia with an alternative outlet. If the person has been unable to show their true feelings for a long time, finally letting them out gives them much relief.

Community support programs and peer support groups are also available in many areas.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your condition and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our True Counsellor Directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists and counsellors from Australia.

Some psychotherapists and counsellors listed in our directory offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars.

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