What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects more than 300,000 Canadians. While the condition is rare in childhood, it can begin onset in the mid- to late teen years.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. Many people living with schizophrenia have hallucinations and delusions, meaning they hear or see things that aren’t there and believe things that are not real or true. Organizing one’s thinking, performing complex memory tasks and keeping several ideas in mind at one time may be difficult for people who live with the illness.
People living with schizophrenia have talents, goals and feelings just like anyone else. But, if left untreated, their illness can have a profoundly negative effect on their own lives, their families and their communities. Because the illness may cause unusual, inappropriate and sometimes unpredictable and disorganized behaviour, people who are not effectively treated are often shunned and can become the targets of social prejudice.
People living with schizophrenia may also face poverty, homelessness and high risk for suicide. Lack of services has left many people living with schizophrenia inappropriately placed in jails and prisons.
Medication, rehabilitation and other community-based supports can often help people living with schizophrenia lead meaningful, satisfying lives. Research has linked schizophrenia to changes in brain chemistry and structure. Some of these changes may be present very early in life. Like diabetes, schizophrenia is a complex, long-term medical illness that affects everybody differently. The course of the illness is unique for each person.
Treatment and Recovery
The treatment of schizophrenia requires an all-encompassing approach, and it is important to develop a plan of care that is tailored to each person’s needs. Mental health care providers and the individual should work together to craft this plan. Finding the right medication is one important aspect of symptom management, but other services are also needed in order to promote recovery. Rehabilitation strategies involving work, school and relationship goals are also essential and need to be addressed in creating a plan of care. Peer support— learning from someone who has “been there”—is a growing area of the field and can also provide employment opportunities for people living with mental illness. The fact that schizophrenia occurs in all cultures means that treatment options should account for these differences in cultural context.
Most people living with schizophrenia can manage their conditions with the community supports and interventions Long term research demonstrates that, over time, individuals living with schizophrenia often do better in terms of coping with their symptoms, maximizing their functioning while minimizing their relapses. Recovery is possible, though it is important to remember that some people have more trouble when it comes to managing their symptoms. Although many effective treatments exist, more research is needed to promote greater understanding, more effective treatments and a potential cure for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.