Help for Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a serious, chronic mental disorder that is often debilitating. About 1.5% of American adults have this disorder. While the cause of schizophrenia is unknown and still being studied, treatments addressing all 3 spheres are available and crucial to lessen symptoms, decrease the frequency of acute episodes, and improve functioning, peace, and life fulfillment.
Schizophrenia and its symptoms are mainly produced by problems in certain cells deep in our brain. These cells use special messengers, called neurotransmitters, to communicate with each other in order to receive, process, and accurately evaluate information from our senses. Schizophrenia primarily impairs two specific messengers, dopamine and glutamate, which are the more excitatory or activating messengers in our brain. Because of this disruption, these brain cells aren’t able to clearly and accurately communicate, causing problems in understanding what is going on around them — what is real and what isn’t.
Scientists now believe schizophrenia is caused by a combination of gene defects blended with issues of brain development during pregnancy, environmental stressors, and the patient’s abilities to handle physical and psychological stressors they are exposed to. Unfortunately, no blood test or brain picture (MRI, CT, SPECT Scan) can diagnose schizophrenia, but diagnosis is made by observing for a constellation of symptoms, functioning, and ruling out other possible causes or illnesses.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
A person with schizophrenia has difficulty processing reality and thinking clearly. The hallmarks are psychotic symptoms which come in 3 different types – hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. These symptoms must be present for more than a month and interfere with functioning. Since many drugs, alcohol, medications, and both medical and psychiatric illness can cause psychotic symptoms, one must make sure these causes are ruled out before a diagnosis of Schizophrenia can be considered.
- Hallucinations are the most common. Hallucinations are when the person believes their senses are picking up something, but sadly, nothing is actually there. Visual hallucinations are when something is seen even though it really doesn’t exist. Auditory hallucinations are when a person hears something, but nothing is producing that sound. Tactile hallucinations are when someone feels something (like bugs crawling under their skin) that isn’t real. Olfactory hallucinations are smelling something that isn’t present, and Gustatory hallucinations are tasting something that they are not actually eating.
- Delusions are the second category of psychotic symptoms and are defined as a fixed false belief. The most common are paranoid delusions of someone trying to attack or harm you or someone stalking or following you. Another delusion is believing people can read your thoughts or putting thoughts in your head. Some believe they have a terrible illness like AIDS or cancer or something is eating their internal organs. Sometimes delusions aren’t negative and are nonsensical, like you have special powers or can understand or receive special messages from normal everyday situations.
- Disorganized thinking or speech is the third category of psychoses as their brain cells aren’t working efficiently and their thoughts are continuously interrupted or blocked, making conversation and relationships very difficult.
Other symptoms (often called negative symptoms) that commonly accompany the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia are decreased motivation, indecisiveness, diminished facial expressions, flat mood, and relational disinterest/distance/clumsiness. Again, these symptoms are the fallout of various brain centers not processing life accurately, thus causing many difficulties with basic responses to life.
The Challenges of Living with Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a difficult disorder to live with, both for the person afflicted as well as the loved ones who live with them. People suffering with this disease have trouble differentiating what is reality and what isn’t, struggle to trust their own thoughts, are often unable to keep a job because of the symptoms, and feel isolated from friends, family, and society in general. Many people, ignorant about the disease, believe people with schizophrenia are lazy, disrespectful, faking it, crazy, or demon possessed. This type of stigma causes people with schizophrenia (and their families) to experience anxiety, emotional distress, isolation, loneliness, and depression.
Sometimes schizophrenia leads people to self-medicate to escape these intrusive and disrupting symptoms with drugs or alcohol. These substances, including cigarettes and caffeine, only worsen its symptoms. Other people who abuse drugs or alcohol begin to show signs of schizophrenia, but these are often just the result of substance abuse and not true schizophrenia, although the psychoses can be permanent with longer term substance abuse.
Many with schizophrenia (especially when it starts in the teen or early adult years) end up needing public assistance, have minimal social supports or friends, and lead a very difficult life. Unfortunately, about 40% of those with schizophrenia attempt suicide and 15% will die from suicide.
Thankfully, treatment is available for schizophrenia, but because of the complexity and seriousness of the disease, the treatment is also complex. Because of their delusions and hallucinations, willingness to trust their family, friends, treatment team, and case managers is often shaky and thus, compliance with the treatment plan is often hit-and-miss. Antipsychotic medications have been developed and dramatically improved over the years, and are effective in eliminating or managing the psychotic symptoms of the disease in most cases.
In addition to medication, psychosocial treatments and psychotherapies like relationship and social skills, assertiveness, reality testing to know when the psychoses are not real, stress management, and conflict resolution skills are key to lessening the psychotic symptoms and building a good support system to healthy living. These help the person learn how to better communicate with others and develop healthy relationships. Obviously, avoiding nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and drugs, exercising, and proper sleep while maintaining healthy relationships and employment are key building blocks.
But because of the disruption in reality and thinking, building a strong foundation based on a relationship with God through Jesus is essential to have hope and joy in the face of faltering circumstances and thinking. A life with schizophrenia is filled with hurt, loss, mistakes, rejection, despair, and isolation, so feeling God’s grace, mercy, love and forgiveness combined with a sense of belonging, value, and purpose are gifts only divinely imparted.
Family education is a huge part of helping a person with schizophrenia. Because family members are often the ones caring for the person, their understanding, coping, and communication skills are important components to the patient’s lifelong battle. Often family members are greatly benefitted by going to support groups with others in like situations. National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is a great resource to find these groups.
How Can You Help?
People with schizophrenia often do not want to get treatment at first. They strongly believe their perceptions are real, and are afraid to give up control and enter a treatment facility. Some with paranoia believe you are kidnapping or intending to harm them. But this is the best way to help someone with this disorder. Family members might choose to take their loved one to the hospital for treatment if the psychosis becomes bad enough and the person is a danger to themselves or others or are unable to take care of themselves. In most cases, a professional treatment facility that is experienced in helping individuals with schizophrenia is the best option.
For those struggling with both schizophrenia and a substance use disorder (Dual Diagnosis), concurrent treatment of the conditions is necessary. Through medication and therapy, individuals with schizophrenia and substance use disorders can go on to lead a happy, fulfilling life.
Schizophrenia is a disease of the mind, but it doesn’t mean people with this disorder are incapable of having clear thoughts, goals, or hopes. A treatment program like the Lighthouse Christian Program can help with rehabilitating a person back to their God-given potential. We provide Christian rehab for Dual Diagnosis and Christian Mental Health only therapy that helps individuals transform their lives through the hope of their Savior, Jesus Christ. Living with a serious mental illness is difficult, but we help individuals redirect their life through Christian counseling, therapy, and rehabilitation.
Contact us at Lighthouse Network at 844-Life-Change (844-543-3242) today to learn more about your treatment options for mental health issues.