Category Archives: Schizophrenia

Surviving Schizophrenia Hallucinations and Delusions

Hallucinations and delusions can be a terrifying experience for the individual with Schizophrenia. Fortunately, anti-psychotic medication, particularly the newer so called atypical antipsychotics, are generally very effective at helping to control episodes of psychosis. These include:

•    Amisulpride
•    Olanzapine
•    Risperidone
•    Clozapine
•    Quetiapine
•    Aripiprazole
•    Zotepine

These atypical antipsychotics are less likely to cause some of more unpleasant side effects associated with the older types of antipsychotics so are more likely to be tolerated by individuals.

The importance of continuing to take medication

One of the problems with treating Schizophrenia is that people suffering from Schizophrenia will often stop their medication for a number of different reasons. They may find that the side effects are so unpleasant they decide not to bother, or they might believe they don’t need them anymore, or during an auditory hallucination a could have voice told them to stop taking them, or because their thoughts are so disorganised they forget to take them.

People respond to medication in different ways so if one drug doesn’t suit, another can be tried until one is found that suits the individual. It might also be possible to receive long term injections which could possibly help in cases where the individual simply forgets to take their medication. It is important not to stop taking medication unless your doctor advises you to because if you do, the psychotic episodes will most likely return soon after.

The importance of avoiding stress

Research has shown that people with Schizophrenia are far more susceptible to the negative effects of stress than other people and that stress can make the symptoms of Schizophrenia much worse. Losing a job, suffering bereavement or going through a divorce is stressful for anyone but for someone suffering from Schizophrenia even minor stresses can trigger an episode of psychosis. It is therefore important to avoid stressful situations as much as possible.

The importance of Family Support

A number of studies have revealed that if family members are openly critical, hostile, or aggressive, an individual with Schizophrenia is more likely to suffer a relapse. It is therefore important that family members are educated as to the nature of Schizophrenia and are aware of the kind of support they need to offer. There are a number of organisations that can help so find out what is available in your area or speak to your doctor for more information.

Types Of Schizophrenia Medications

If someone is suffering with the so called positive symptoms associated with Schizophrenia such as hallucinations and delusions, they are likely to be prescribed anti-psychotic medication in order to control the symptoms.

As with all medications, antipsychotics can carry some unpleasant side effects although the newer types of antipsychotics are believed to be less likely to result in severe side effects, particularly involuntary movements of the face and body.

In the past, the so called typical or traditional antipsychotics included drugs such as chlorpromazine, flupenthixol, fluphenazine and haloperidol. The side effects associated with these older types of antipsychotics include muscle stiffness, tremors, restlessness, sexual dysfunction and in some people, Tardive Dyskinesia or TD for short.

TD can be described as involuntary, repetitive and purposeless movements often affecting the face, tongue and lips but sometimes other parts of the body too. For example, constant lip smacking, tongue protrusion, grimacing, blinking etc.

These older medicines first appeared in the mid 1950’s and they worked by altering the activity of a chemical in the brain called Dopamine. More recently, in the last decade or so, they have recently been more or less replaced by newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotics which include:

•    Amisulpride
•    Olanzapine
•    Risperidone
•    Clozapine
•    Quetiapine
•    Aripiprazole
•    Zotepine

The side effects most often reported with the newer type of medicines include drowsiness, sexual dysfunction and weight gain. There is also some evidence of a higher risk of developing diabetes. In high doses involuntary movements are still possible. Each drug will also produce its own side effects so you should check the leaflets for a full description of all known side effects and speak to your doctor if you are worried.

These newer types of antipsychotics work on many different chemical messengers in the brain and have proved quite effective in controlling Schizophrenia. One type in particular, Clozapine, appears to work quite well for people who do not respond to other types of medication and is also believed to reduce the risk of suicide, which is already high in people suffering from Schizophrenia.

However, we all respond to medication in different ways and what might suit one individual may not suit another. Therefore if you are already taking an older type antipsychotic and it is causing no problems, there is no need to change and it may be that you have to try several different drugs before finding one that works for you.

Sometimes an individual who is taking medication for Schizophrenia will stop taking it, maybe because they find the side effects too unpleasant, or they believe they are well again and no longer need them, or perhaps because their thinking is so disorganised they forget to take them. Unfortunately if this happens the hallucinations and delusions are likely to return. If this is the case, it may be possible for a doctor to give the medication by long term injection.

Side Effects Of Schizophrenia Drugs

Any medication can cause unwanted side effects in some people, even over the counter remedies and herbal preparations and the antipsychotic medicine prescribed for patients with Schizophrenia is no different.

Sometimes it is worth putting up with some mild side effects in order to get the benefits provided by the medication but one of the drawbacks of antipsychotic medication for Schizophrenia is when an individual finds the side effects so unpleasant they decide to stop taking them, or, due to the nature of Schizophrenia an individual’s thinking might be so disorganised they forget to take their medication, or they may feel better from taking the medication and decide they no longer need it.

However, taking the medicine reduces the chance of experiencing relapses and future psychotic episodes. It may not necessarily prevent relapses altogether but the medication is likely to reduce the frequency and the severity of the symptoms and there is a much higher risk of experiencing a relapse by stopping the medication.

It is therefore important not to stop taking any medication and if you are experiencing side effects you should inform your doctor or health care provider so that you can discuss treatment options and possibly be prescribed an alternative. What may suit one person may not suit another so it really is more a case of finding out what type of medication suits each individual.

A lot of progress has been made in recent years and risk of experiencing unpleasant side effects with the newer atypical antipsychotic drugs available is believed to be lower than with the older typical antipsychotic medicine.

Atypical antipsychotic drugs include Amisulpride, Clozapine, Risperidone and Olanzapine to name only a few. Examples of the older typical antipsychotic medicine include Haloperidol, Chlorpromazine and Thioridazine.

What are the most common side effects reported when taking antipsychotic drugs?

•    Dry mouth
•    Drowsiness
•    Blurred vision
•    Changes in bowel movements
•    Flushes
•    Weight gain
•    Sexual dysfunction

In some cases movement disorders can also occur which can include tremors, restlessness in the legs, involuntary movements affecting the face, body, arms and legs, tongue clicking or lip smacking etc. Movement disorders are thought to happen less with the so called atypical antipsychotic drugs but this isn’t always the case. If someone is taking an older typical antipsychotic drug and is tolerating it well there is no need to change.

Occasionally anti-depressants are also prescribed to people with Schizophrenia in order to treat some of the so called ‘negative’ symptoms. There have also been studies that have shown that Fish Oil can be effective for some people with Schizophrenia. Speak to your doctor for more information.

Slow Schizophrenia Onset

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder affecting around one percent of the population around the world. No one knows exactly what causes it although there is a genetic element as it can run in families. However, even people without a family history of the condition can develop it. There is currently no cure although around a quarter of people developing symptoms of Schizophrenia will go on to make a full recovery.

Both males and females suffer from Schizophrenia in roughly equal numbers but males are more likely to develop the symptoms earlier such as in their late teens or early twenties, than females, who are most likely to experience their first symptoms in their early thirties.

Schizophrenia can develop slowly or suddenly. Slow onset Schizophrenia, also known as gradual onset or insidious Schizophrenia is when the symptoms of Schizophrenia develop slowly over a period of time so that it can be quite some time before the individual, their family and friends realise there is a problem. The so called negative symptoms of Schizophrenia are likely to be more common than the positive symptoms.

Negative symptoms of Schizophrenia include the following:

•    A ‘flattening’ of the emotions and speech where the individual may appear to lack emotional expression, their faces seem unresponsive and their speech can seem monotonous and devoid of any warmth
•    An apparent inability or unwillingness to partake in social activities and conversations, they will often say little or nothing at all
•    The individual may not be able to make or stick to any goals
•    Social isolation and seeming to prefer their own company
•    Neglect of personal hygiene
•    A lack of ability to enjoy oneself or experience pleasure

Schizophrenia can also develop abruptly with an acute psychotic episode and can sometimes happen after experiencing an extremely stressful or traumatic event in life. The symptoms of acute Schizophrenia are a lot more obvious as they will usually include the so called positive symptoms of Schizophrenia.

Positive symptoms of Schizophrenia include the following:

•    Hallucinations – hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling, smelling something that isn’t really there. Auditory hallucinations are the most common in Schizophrenia
•    Delusions – believing in something that isn’t true and sticking to that belief despite rational explanations or evidence to the contrary
•    Disorganised thinking – unable to connect thoughts together

Slow onset Schizophrenia or Schizophrenia that develops early in life is associated with a worse prognosis than Schizophrenia that develops suddenly. It is essential that treatment begins early as there is also evidence that if treatment is delayed when the symptoms first appear, the outlook is worse than when treatment is started early.

The History of Schizophrenia

Evidence of what we describe as Schizophrenia today can actually be traced right back to ancient Egyptian times and a description of symptoms in the Book of Hearts resembles what we would recognise as Schizophrenia today.

It wasn’t until 1887 that the German physician, Emile Kraepelin identified the symptoms of different mental disorders, including Schizophrenia and classified them accordingly.
Kraepelin didn’t call it Schizophrenia though; he referred to it as ‘dementia praecox’, which literally means early dementia.

The term Schizophrenia didn’t actually appear until 1911 when the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler changed the name. Bleuler recognised that the various symptoms of Schizophrenia fell into two distinct groups and was the first person to describe the symptoms of Schizophrenia as being either positive or negative.

Schizophrenia comes from the Greek words Schizo and Phrene which translated means split and mind. This led the general public to mistakenly believe that Schizophrenia is split personality, which is incorrect.

Both Kraepelin and Bleuler managed to classify Schizophrenia into different types and today we recognise the five different sub-types of Schizophrenia as Disorganised, Catatonic, Paranoid, Residual and Undifferentiated.

The first antipsychotic medicines

It’s hard to believe in these modern times in the West that Schizophrenia and indeed all mental illnesses were once thought and in some parts of the world still are believed to be caused by evil spirits or some other divine or ridiculous idea. Who knows what suffering some poor individuals have had to endure at the mercy of a superstitious public?

Before the discovery of antipsychotic medicine, treatment of individuals with Schizophrenia included bizarre practices such as exorcism, boring holes into the skull, incarceration, even burning as witches. However, in 1952 French surgeon Henri Laborit discovered that Chlorpromazine effectively reduced the symptoms of Schizophrenia and a new era was born.

In the last ten years or so, even newer types of antipsychotics have become available which are even more effective than the older typical antipsychotics and which produce fewer side effects. Research also continues to highlight potential triggers and causes and there is hope that a cure may be found in the future.

In the meantime, we have come a long way regarding our attitude to and our treatment of Schizophrenia, particularly in the West, and although stigma still exists, nowadays the main objective is to control the symptoms and help the individual integrate into society.

Many people with Schizophrenia can and do go on to lead very full and productive lives, can maintain relationships, have children, learn, work, partake in social activities, just like everyone else, and as research continues to advance our understanding of Schizophrenia, the future looks even more promising.

Schizophrenia Effects The Family

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder characterised by hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thought processes that affects around one in a hundred people around the world. However, in reality it impacts on a great many more because the family and close friends of an individual with Schizophrenia also suffer too.

Although no one knows the exact cause of Schizophrenia as there would appear to be several different triggers, it is now well established that genetics play a significant role. Schizophrenia does tend to run in families and if you have a family member with Schizophrenia you are at greater risk of developing it yourself.

Unfortunately there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding all mental illness and a lot of misunderstanding, particularly with Schizophrenia. The symptoms of Schizophrenia can appear quite dramatic so many people mistakenly believe that people with Schizophrenia are violent and dangerous and incapable of mixing well in society, which is not only untrue, it serves to increase the social isolation often experienced by schizophrenia sufferers.

Research shows that around a quarter of people diagnosed with Schizophrenia will go on to make a full recovery. Fifty percent are likely to have periods of remission where they appear quite well. A final quarter will need constant treatment and support.

If you have a member of your family with Schizophrenia it can be frightening and difficult. You have to witness and cope with the terrifying symptoms of the illness as well as the stigma still associated with the disease which can put a tremendous amount of stress and strain on the whole family.

Studies have also shown that people with Schizophrenia are more likely to suffer a relapse if family members openly display emotions such as anger and hostility, if they are critical, or if the required level of support isn’t there. Fortunately, family intervention therapies can help family members educate themselves as to the nature of Schizophrenia and the best ways to help the family and the person suffering from Schizophrenia to cope.

There is no doubt that Schizophrenia is distressing and there may be times when family members or anyone else caring for the person with Schizophrenia will find it all too much and will require some level of support themselves. If you have a family member who has Schizophrenia or if you are caring for an individual with Schizophrenia, it might be a good idea to find out what sort of support systems are available in your local area.

Ten Schizophrenia Facts You Should Know

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding schizophrenia and too many people are still unaware of the basic facts and this is despite massive campaigns by governments, organisations and charities aiming to educate the general public about this severe and complex mental disorder.

Schizophrenia is characterised by psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) and disorganised thought processes along with other symptoms such as a ‘flattening’ of emotions and speech, apathy, social withdrawal and a lack of interest in life. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms and the severity of the symptoms can vary significantly from person to person.

The following are ten important facts about schizophrenia that might help people gain a greater insight and understanding of schizophrenia.

1. Schizophrenia is not ‘split personality’ as some people still believe, people with schizophrenia have problems interpreting reality but they do not have multiple personalities. Consequently many professionals would like to see the name changed to something more appropriate

2. There are many different sub types of schizophrenia depending on what the most dominant symptoms are. Scientists now believe that schizophrenia may be a whole range of disorders as opposed to just one condition

3. Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, around 25% of those who develop schizophrenia will go on to make a full recovery and others will experience periods of remission where there are no symptoms at all. People with schizophrenia are not psychotic all the time.

4. The earlier treatment for schizophrenia begins, the better the long term outlook. It is therefore important to get help as soon as possible after developing the first signs of schizophrenia

5. People with schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent and aggressive than other members of the public. Indeed, there is more likely to be violence and aggression from people intoxicated with alcohol or who are under the influence of some street drugs. When experiencing delusions and hallucinations, a person with schizophrenia may mistakenly believe that others are out to harm them and so will try to defend themselves. They need to be treated with calm and understanding.

6. People with schizophrenia can still work, have families, maintain close relationships and be involved in social situations and many do but the stigma that still surrounds schizophrenia often prevents this

7. There is a higher risk of developing schizophrenia if there is a close family member who has already been diagnosed with the condition but you don’t have to have it in the family to develop it

8. Taking drugs does not cause schizophrenia but it can worsen the symptoms and trigger schizophrenia earlier in predisposed individuals

9. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder where many different factors interplay. Contrary to what many people believe, it is NOT caused by poor parenting skills

10. We should all be aware of the facts surrounding schizophrenia as it is not that rare, affecting roughly one in a hundred people across the world. Therefore there is every chance that we will come across it in our family, through our friends socially, or in the workplace at some point in our lives.

Mental Illness And Schizophrenia

Mental illness can affect anyone at any time. Indeed, one in four will experience a mental health problem at some point. Schizophrenia is one of the most severe types of mental illness and affects around 1% of the population across the world. Both males and females develop schizophrenia in roughly equal numbers but males are more likely to develop it between the ages of 15 and 25 whereas females are more likely to show the first signs of schizophrenia slightly later.

What causes schizophrenia?

No one really knows what causes schizophrenia or why it might develop in one individual and not another, but scientists are making progress towards a greater understanding of what might lie at the roots of schizophrenia. For example, there is now a growing consensus that schizophrenia may not be just one mental illness but could in fact be a whole range of conditions for which there could be several different causes. There certainly is a genetic element to schizophrenia and scientists have been able to identify several different genes that appear to play a role.

What changes are there in someone with a mental illness like Schizophrenia?

People with schizophrenia have difficulty interpreting and making sense of reality. They can experience hallucinations, which is basically seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, or touching things that are not really there but which seem very real to the person affected by schizophrenia.

They may also have delusions which can be defined as ‘false beliefs’ or believing something which is not true. These delusions can take the form of delusions of grandeur where the individual might really believe they are a famous personality or a religious figure, or an important individual in society, or that they can fly, that they have special magical powers or can communicate telepathically with others.

Delusions can also take the form of delusions of persecution with an individual believing that others are out to do them harm, or that their neighbours are spying on them, that they are being followed, or that family members are conspiring against them. Obviously if the person with schizophrenia has delusions and hallucinations that back each other up the implications are much more serious.

Disorganised thought processes are also very common with an individual finding it difficult to concentrate or connect thoughts together. The mind can go blank or thought processes might slow down or speed up. Other changes in the person with schizophrenia can include the so called negative symptoms such as lack of emotion, lack of motivation, lack of facial expressions and general disinterest in life.

A person with schizophrenia will often neglect themselves and their appearance and withdraw socially or respond in an inappropriate way to social situations. The risk of suicide is high.

The symptoms of schizophrenia do vary significantly from person to person so the experience of schizophrenia will be different for everyone.

The importance of getting help

Anyone showing signs of schizophrenia is advised to seek help as soon as possible as there is evidence that the longer treatment is delayed the worse the outlook is likely to be. Fortunately, with the right treatment, help and support, many individuals do go on to lead very full and satisfying lives and around a quarter of those experiencing an episode of psychosis will go on to make a full recovery.

Schizophrenia Brain Scans

Long ago a person with schizophrenia had a very poor outlook as not much was understood about this severe mental illness. A person with schizophrenia would have had no access to the types of medication and psychological intervention therapies available today.

Although there is still some way to go, these days the treatment methods are a lot better and we are making progress towards a greater understanding of what schizophrenia is, how it develops, who is likely to be affected and what can be done to help prevent relapses occurring.

In the past, the only way to look at the brains of people with schizophrenia was to study their brains in a laboratory after death. Nowadays, the development of technologies such Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) means that scientists are able to look at the brains of people with schizophrenia whilst they are still living which is shedding more and more light into this complex and distressing mental health disorder.

What brain scans can tell us?

Brain scans have only been in use for a few decades now but already they have demonstrated that people with schizophrenia often have reduced grey matter in certain areas of the brain and that there are sometimes changes in the functioning of the prefrontal and temporal cortex.

One area that brain scans have proved particularly useful is in ruling out other conditions. Some people who experience psychosis have an underlying organic disorder that is the cause of the psychosis and not schizophrenia. Brain scans can help to rule out causes such as epilepsy, brain tumours and brain injury. This is important when we consider treatment methods as a person with schizophrenia will require different treatment to say that of a person with epilepsy.

Very recently, scientists from Edinburgh University claimed that brain scans could help predict schizophrenia in people who are already considered at greater risk of developing the mental illness (they had a genetic disposition) and that they could predict this even before an individual started to show symptoms.

For a period of ten years they followed people who had a history of schizophrenia in their family but who hadn’t yet developed the condition themselves. Using MRI scans they examined the brains of a small sample of 65 and found that 8 of these went onto develop schizophrenia and that these 8 had changes in their grey matter before they developed any symptoms.  These changes were in an area of the brain which is involved in processing anxiety.

We already know that people with schizophrenia are far more susceptible to the effects of stress and anxiety than people who don’t have the disorder and that people who develop schizophrenia show increased anxiety levels prior to developing the condition.

This is only a small insight and a very small sample but the implications of the results are quite promising. Currently there is no diagnostic test for schizophrenia but detecting who is much more likely to develop schizophrenia can lead to early treatment and better preventative methods in the future.

What Is The Most Likely Cause Of Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness characterised by hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thought processes. It affects around one percent of the population across the world and currently, there is no cure.

As there isn’t a single cause of schizophrenia that can be clearly identified, most researchers now agree that several different factors are involved and have called this interplay of factors the bio-psycho-social model.

What is the Bio-Psycho-Social Model of Schizophrenia?

A simple way to explain The Bio-Psycho-Social Model of Schizophrenia is that a when a combination of biological (including genetics), psychological and social factors are present in an individual, together they can result in the mental illness schizophrenia.

Although genetics plays a strong role in whether someone will develop schizophrenia or not, there isn’t enough evidence to class it as a definite cause by itself. Yes, if you have a family history of schizophrenia you are at higher risk of developing schizophrenia yourself but not everyone with a close relative who has the condition will develop it. Take identical twins as an example, if one twin develops schizophrenia the other only has a 50% chance of developing it too and yet they have the same genes.

There is some evidence that maternal stress during pregnancy can result in changes to the unborn child’s brain which can then increase the risk of that child developing schizophrenia when they reach young adulthood.  Again, this cannot be identified as a single cause of schizophrenia by itself.

People who have suffered neglect or abuse during their childhood, or those living in poor social housing or that come from dysfunctional families, are experiencing stress or are vulnerable in some other way and who are also genetically predisposed towards schizophrenia seem to be more likely to develop schizophrenia than those who are genetically disposed but who have a more secure and stable foundation with very little stress.

On the other hand, someone with no genetic disposition might still develop schizophrenia as a result of another combination of factors such as stress during pregnancy, social stress or environmental stress during childhood. What is known is that people with schizophrenia or who at risk of developing schizophrenia are much more susceptible to the effects of any kind of stress.

No one can yet explain exactly how all these factors interplay to result in schizophrenia in one person and not in another as the risk factors are not the same for everyone. However, progress is being made all the time.

Just recently, scientists from Edinburgh University discovered that they could detect changes in the grey matter of the brains of high risk individuals even before they showed any symptoms of schizophrenia which in the future might help predict who will develop schizophrenia and who won’t.