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Schizophrenia

schizophrenia; psychosis; mental; illness; delusion; hallucination; voice; depression ;

Schizophrenia is the name given to a mental illness that affects about one person in every hundred in all cultures. Schizophrenia interferes with the way a person thinks and acts. In the long term it may change a person's personality. While the term schizophrenia literally means 'split mind' or 'split personality', the mental illness called schizophrenia is not about having a split mind.

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Alert!
If someone who has schizophrenia is very distressed, frightened or angry, call the Mental Health Emergency Crisis Number, which is near the front of your local phone book. In South Australia that number is 13 14 65.

Symptoms of schizophrenia

Some people with schizophrenia have major changes in their thinking and behaviour which can last for a long time, while other people may have fewer changes for a shorter time. Between the episodes of disordered thinking, the person will have normal times.

The main symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Delusions: false beliefs of being persecuted, or of guilt, or of being very powerful. Some people may think they are being controlled by others, or that they have special powers. Some feel so afraid of others that they withdraw or hide to keep themselves feeling safe.
  • Hallucinations: most commonly hearing voices which they think are criticising them or telling them what to do. Some people have hallucinations affecting what they see or feel or smell. To the person having the hallucination these are real, even though they are not actually there.
  • Thought disorder: thoughts and speech can be very jumbled, jumping from one topic to another without any obvious link. Others may find it very difficult to talk with the person who has schizophrenia, and the person may feel that someone is interfering with his or her thoughts.

While the person has these changed thought patterns, their illness can be called an 'acute psychosis'. Treatment with medication will usually reduce these psychotic symptoms.

Other symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Loss of drive: so that they don't feel able to or be interested in doing the normal tasks of living, including washing, cooking, changing clothes. This is because of the illness, not because the person is lazy.
  • Changes in the way they show emotions: they may not show happiness or sadness when it seems those feelings fit a situation.
  • Social withdrawal: this may be due to fear that someone will harm them, or fear that they will not be able to interact well with others because they have lost social skills.
  • Lack of insight: because delusions and hallucinations seem so real, people with schizophrenia can be unaware that they are ill. This, plus the side effects of medication may mean they refuse to take medication.
  • Thinking difficulties: their concentration, memory, ability to plan and organise may be affected, making it harder to reason, communicate and complete tasks.

No single cause of schizophrenia has been found, but several factors seem to be involved either to make a person more likely to develop schizophrenia, or to trigger (start off) an episode of the illness including genetic factors, environmental factors and drug use.

Most people who have schizophrenia have their first episode of illness when they are adolescents or young adults. It can start later in life, but this is unusual.

  • The illness can come on suddenly, but often, before people have their first episode of illness, changes in their behaviour will have been noticed, such as irritability, depression, isolation (loss of friendships), not managing study or work well. Many young people have behaviour like this, and do not get ill, but if this behaviour happens much of the time, and gets worse rather than better it should be more of a concern.
  • The onset of illness can be triggered by use of drugs such as marijuana or metamphetamines (such as 'ice'). Sometimes the illness can be hidden because drugs are thought to be the cause of the unusual behaviour.

There is no cure for schizophrenia, but for many people with schizophrenia, their illness responds well to treatment. The most effective treatment for schizophrenia is a combination of medication, psychological counselling and help to manage the impact of the illness on every day life.

More information about schizophrenia

Seeking help

When a person has his first psychotic episode, there can be a long time between starting to show changes in behaviour and being diagnosed with the illness, possibly up to a year. Friends and family may need to seek help for him as someone with schizophrenia does not understand that his feelings are caused by an illness. He may well blame the people who are trying to support him for making him feel confused.

Early diagnosis seems to reduce the length of time that a person is unwell from schizophrenia and the severity of the illness, so if family or friends can encourage a person to seek help early, this can be useful. Do not delay seeking help in the hope that in time the problem will just go away naturally.

If someone seems to be at high risk of harming themselves or someone else, it may be necessary to access support without that person's permission.

Resources

South Australia

  • Mental Health Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS)
    Emergency Crisis Service 13 14 65
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)
    Northern Region 8161 7389
    Southern Region 8326 1234
  • The Youth Health Service
    - Central: 57 Hyde St, Adelaide
    - South: 50a Beach Rd, Christies Beach
    - North: 6 Gillingham Rd, Elizabeth 
  • Mental Illness Fellowship of SA.
    Ph 8221 5160 (For people with schizophrenia, their family, friends and other interested people). 
    http://www.mifa.org.au/ 
  • Women's Information Service (has up to date contacts in SA)
    Ph: 8303 0590 Country Callers Freecall 1800 188 158 
    http://www.officeforwomen.sa.gov.au/?page_id=9 

Australia

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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