Psychiatry and Schizophrenia

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Psychiatry can be described as a medical specialty that concentrates on the study and treatment and prevention of all mental disorders, including of course schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder characterised by hallucinations (seeing or feeling or hearing things that aren’t there) and delusions (believing in things are simply not true).

A psychiatrist is a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating mental disorders. The main differences between a psychiatrist and other mental health professionals are that a psychiatrist must first have studied medicine, is able to interpret tests and scans and can prescribe drugs. A psychologist for example, cannot. Consequently it can take many years to become qualified in the field of psychiatry.

When a patient with a mental health disorder is referred to a psychiatrist, the first thing a psychiatrist will do is conduct a full assessment of the person’s physical and mental health in order to make a diagnosis.

Diagnosing Schizophrenia

The problems associated with schizophrenia are that no one yet knows what causes it and many psychiatrists now believe it could be more than one disorder, the symptoms vary from person to person and can overlap with other conditions, there is no cure so treatment consists of drugs and therapy, and there are no diagnostic tests available to ascertain for certain that the person is suffering from schizophrenia. Tests can be conducted but they are to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.

A psychiatrist is therefore likely to diagnose schizophrenia only after making a full assessment of the patient’s medical history and all the symptoms to rule out other possible causes such as drug abuse, medication or an underlying health problem or another mental health disorder.

The diagnostic criteria is long and complex and has to take many things into consideration but if we put it very simply, a person may be diagnosed with schizophrenia if they have been suffering with extremely severe delusions or hallucinations or two or more of the following symptoms for a period of time:

•    Delusions
•    Hallucinations
•    Disorganized Speech
•    Catatonic Behaviour
•    So called Negative symptoms of Schizophrenia which includes flattening of the emotions, slow speech, lack of motivation, apathy, inappropriate social skills and social isolation

There are other cognitive symptoms too such as inability to focus and concentrate poor memory and difficulty in expressing thoughts and feelings. Only a psychiatrist will be able to determine if any or all of these symptoms are a result of schizophrenia.

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