Perhaps one of the most stigmatized and misunderstood mental health disorders is schizophrenia. The demonization of this condition goes back centuries; in the past, people with this disorder have been called “crazy,” “lunatics,” and “psychos.” Even now, someone exhibiting strange behavior may be dismissed as a “schizo.” In reality, schizophrenia is a relatively rare disorder, affecting only 0.32% of people worldwide. People living with schizophrenia may appear to be like everyone else, while others may behave abnormally. No matter how the disorder presents, each person’s symptoms should be validated and treated with care.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a very serious mental health condition and brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to perceive reality in a normal way. For people living with schizophrenia, everything that they experience can be skewed by the disorder: what they see, hear, feel, think, and do. To others, they often seem to have lost touch with reality completely. They may say and do things that don’t make sense or aren’t true, or even speak to people who aren’t there. This can be scary for friends and family of someone living with schizophrenia. It’s important to remember, however, that they are probably scared too.
Some symptoms to look out for in yourself and others include:
- Hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that aren’t there)
- Delusions (believing things that aren’t true)
- Disordered or illogical thoughts
- Strange bodily movements that may be repetitive
- Inability to feel happiness
- Appearing emotionally flat
- Avoiding social interaction
- Chronically low energy
- Trouble processing information
- Problems with focus and memory
- Catatonia (complete lack of movement or speech)
Subtle symptoms may start in childhood and early adolescence, but schizophrenia typically isn’t diagnosed until the late teens to early 30s. This is when symptoms often take full effect. The reason for this is unclear, although it may be connected to the completion of the development of the prefrontal cortex around the same age. This is the part of the brain that regulates thoughts, actions, and emotions. It also has extensive connections to the other regions of the brain.
Schizophrenia has a distinct genetic component that isn’t fully understood by geneticists. The disorder has been shown to aggregate in families; in other words, if someone in your family has schizophrenia, you are more likely to develop it. However, it isn’t as simple as a recessive or dominant gene pattern, like having red hair or blue eyes. For example, even if both of your parents have schizophrenia, you are still less than 40% likely to develop it yourself. So, while there is a strong genetic component, further research is needed to understand exactly how this disorder is passed down.
Psychosis, Schizophrenia, and Bipolar Disorder
Schizophrenia is often called a psychotic disorder because it includes periods of psychosis. Psychosis is the mental state of being disconnected from reality or perceiving reality in a distorted way. Other “psychotic disorders” include paranoid personality disorder, severe depression, bipolar disorder, and postpartum psychosis.
It’s easy to get schizophrenia confused with other mental health disorders because of overlapping symptoms. However, it’s important to know the difference so that you can get the best help for yourself or someone you love.
Some symptoms of schizophrenia are shared with another disorder called bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that is characterized by swinging between two extreme emotional states: depression and mania. During episodes of mania, a person with bipolar disorder may experience hallucinations and delusions, which are two hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia. However, the two disorders are very unique.
Bipolar disorder is a condition that interacts with and relies on the person’s mood, so hallucinations and delusions usually correlate to the person’s mood. For example, a person with bipolar who is in a manic state typically feels very happy and upbeat, so they may have delusions such as believing that everyone they meet falls in love with them. This is different from schizophrenia because delusions and hallucinations are usually unrelated to the person’s mood. If you’re living with schizophrenia, you might be feeling very happy and then see a hallucination of a terrifying monster.
Additionally, people with bipolar disorder who are in a manic state are typically very expressive, euphoric, and experience over-the-top emotions. People with schizophrenia have a difficult time feeling and expressing emotions, so they often appear very emotionally flat or numb. This is another distinction between the two.
Another mental health issue that gets confused with schizophrenia is psychosis. This confusion is caused by a misunderstanding of what psychosis is. Psychosis is a mental state, while schizophrenia is a disorder. This means that psychosis doesn’t occur on its own; it’s always a symptom of a disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Additionally, people are usually not diagnosed as just psychotic in modern clinical settings. Labeling someone as psychotic simply describes a state that their mind is currently in. It is not the disorder that they have.
The Challenges of Living With Schizophrenia
Living with schizophrenia can be an incredibly challenging and often misunderstood experience. This condition poses numerous challenges for both individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and their loved ones.
One of the most significant challenges of living with schizophrenia is the stigma associated with the illness. Misconceptions and stereotypes often lead to discrimination, isolation, and social exclusion. Many people with schizophrenia find it difficult to open up about their condition due to fear of judgment, which can worsen feelings of loneliness and isolation. These hopeless feelings, coupled with the fear caused by delusions and hallucinations, make people with schizophrenia one of the most at-risk groups for self-harm and suicide. Visual and auditory hallucinations can also compel victims to self-harm; these are called command hallucinations.
Symptoms of schizophrenia can vary widely but typically include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, and negative symptoms like social withdrawal and flattened emotions. These symptoms can be distressing and make it difficult to engage in day-to-day activities. People with schizophrenia may have trouble maintaining employment, forming relationships, or even performing simple tasks, leading to feelings of frustration and helplessness.
Unfortunately, people living with schizophrenia are also at higher-than-normal risk of serving prison time at some point in their lives. The disorder can cause abnormal and erratic behavior that can lead to illegal acts. People with schizophrenia may be arrested for disturbing the peace, public indecency, and harassment. This is not because they are malicious or intend to cause harm. Most of the time, they are confused and scared.
Prison is often a stabilizing time in the life of someone with schizophrenia because they get back into the routine of taking the necessary medication every day. Sadly, once out of prison, it’s common for them to stop taking the medication again, which leads to a high recidivism rate for people with schizophrenia.
Treatment is another significant challenge. While medication and therapy can help manage symptoms, finding the right treatment plan can be a lengthy and often frustrating process. Medication can have side effects, and individuals may need to try several combinations before finding what works for them. Consistent therapy and support are essential but not always readily accessible or affordable. The financial strain of medication and therapy while having difficulty holding down a job can lead to homelessness in many cases.
Another major obstacle is the unpredictability of the illness. Schizophrenia symptoms can wax and wane, making it hard for individuals to plan for their futures. This uncertainty can lead to stress and anxiety, which may exacerbate symptoms. Family members often bear a considerable burden in supporting a loved one with schizophrenia. They may struggle to understand the illness and find it challenging to provide the necessary care and support. This can put a strain on relationships and lead to a sense of helplessness.
Effects of Stigma
The stigma surrounding schizophrenia is a complex issue that permeates society, influencing how individuals perceive and interact with this condition. Misconceptions and stereotypes are among the biggest contributors to this stigma. The media often sensationalizes and villainizes people with schizophrenia, which perpetuates the belief that they are violent or unstable. Fear and a lack of understanding can lead to discrimination. This can make it difficult for people with schizophrenia to receive employment, housing, and healthcare. These factors can isolate those already struggling with the challenges of the disorder.
Social isolation is a common consequence, as friends and family may distance themselves from individuals with schizophrenia due to a lack of understanding or fear. Unfortunately, that only deepens the person’s feelings of loneliness and despair. In addition to external stigma, self-stigmatization is common among individuals living with schizophrenia. That means that they internalize the negative stereotypes and misconceptions and start to accept them as truth. Self-stigmatization leads to low self-esteem and self-doubt, making it even more challenging to manage the condition effectively.
Moreover, stigma creates barriers to treatment. The fear of being labeled as “crazy” or “unstable” can deter individuals from seeking early intervention and treatment. Not receiving treatment can result in the worsening of their symptoms and reduced chances of recovery. Families of those with schizophrenia also experience the impact of stigma. They may struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and social isolation. Lastly, reduced funding and a lack of advocacy for individuals with schizophrenia in mental health services hamper progress in research, treatment, and support.
Combating the stigma surrounding schizophrenia requires collective efforts, including education and awareness campaigns that challenge misconceptions and provide accurate information about the condition. Sharing personal stories and narratives from individuals living with schizophrenia can help humanize the condition, fostering empathy and understanding. Encouraging open discussions and creating safe spaces for people to share their experiences can also play a significant role in reducing stigma. Ultimately, embracing individuals with schizophrenia with compassion, understanding, and empathy is essential for a more inclusive and supportive society that offers these individuals the care and acceptance they deserve. This is something we strive for at Avery Lane Women’s Rehab.
Living With Schizophrenia as a Woman
There are unique challenges and experiences for women living with schizophrenia that differ from those of men. While the core symptoms of schizophrenia are similar for both genders, there are several distinct factors that make this condition unique for women:
- Stigma and gender bias: Gender bias and societal stigma can be especially challenging for women with schizophrenia. Women may be more likely to face discrimination, as some stereotypes about mental illness intersect with gender stereotypes. This can lead to isolation and feelings of inadequacy.
- Safety and vulnerability: Women with schizophrenia may be more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, abuse, and discrimination. The vulnerability associated with mental illness can put them at a higher risk for violence and exploitation, both within and outside healthcare settings. Ensuring safety and support is crucial.
- Motherhood and family roles: Many women with schizophrenia aspire to be mothers or play significant roles in their families. Managing the condition while taking on these responsibilities can be challenging. Women with schizophrenia may require additional support to maintain their family roles and ensure the well-being of their children.
- Treatment and medication challenges: Medications used to treat schizophrenia can have side effects, some of which may be particularly relevant to women, such as hormonal changes. Medication management can be complex, especially if women are of childbearing age or are considering pregnancy, as there are considerations regarding medication safety during pregnancy.
- Self-image and self-esteem: Schizophrenia can have a profound impact on self-image and self-esteem. Women may experience unique challenges related to body image, social expectations, and cultural pressures. This can contribute to low self-esteem and self-worth.
- Social isolation: Women may find it challenging to build and maintain social relationships. The intersection of schizophrenia stigma with gender stereotypes can lead to isolation and a lack of understanding from others.
Despite these challenges, it is important to recognize that women living with schizophrenia can lead fulfilling lives. With proper treatment, support, and self-care, they can overcome these unique challenges. It’s crucial to raise awareness of the specific needs of women with schizophrenia and promote mental health services that address these issues. By providing understanding, empathy, and tailored support, Avery Lane has created a space to assist women with schizophrenia in managing their condition and achieving a sense of normalcy and well-being.
Can I Ever Be Normal Living With Schizophrenia?
The first step to feeling happy and fulfilled while living with schizophrenia is realizing that “normal” can mean many different things. Your normal depends on where you live, your background, your goals, and your needs in life. Instead of shaping yourself to what you think normal should be, try shaping the definition to what is realistic and feels good for you.
There is no cure for schizophrenia, so if you’re wondering if you’ll ever be without it, the answer is probably not. However, it is possible to control your symptoms with medication and counseling.
Typically, antipsychotic medications are the primary pharmacological treatment for schizophrenia. They work by reducing or controlling the symptoms of the disorder, such as hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. The specific medication and dosage may vary from person to person, as the effectiveness and side effects can differ. It is essential that you work closely with your care management team to find the most suitable medication and dosage. Avery Lane provides each client with a personal care team whose goal is to find what works best for them. Medication management is an ongoing process that may require adjustments over time to achieve the best results.
Therapy, particularly psychosocial treatments, is a crucial component of schizophrenia management. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and supportive psychotherapy are commonly used to help individuals with schizophrenia develop coping strategies, manage stress, and improve their social and occupational functioning. Counseling can also help you adhere to your medication regimen and build a support network. Group therapy or family therapy may be recommended to help you and your loved ones understand and manage the condition together. The goal of therapy is to help individuals with schizophrenia regain control over their lives, enhance their well-being, and facilitate their integration into the community.
Recovery can be a long and difficult journey. Many individuals with schizophrenia experience periods of remission, but relapses can occur. Consistency in treatment, lifestyle, and support is crucial which requires significant effort and resilience. Along this healing process, it’s important to have a strong support system, and Avery Lane can provide you with the network you need.
If you or someone you love is struggling with symptoms of schizophrenia or other mental health disorders, getting help as soon as possible is the most important thing. Conditions like this tend to spiral when left untreated, which can lead to more strain on your mental health. While stigma and shame can make it difficult to reach out, know that Avery Lane is a judgment-free space. We have worked with individuals with severe mental health disorders and helped them onto a better path. Our goal is to make you feel welcome and understood here. Don’t let the judgment of society stop you from living the life you want to live. Give us a call at (800) 270-2406.