Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, the most serious, complicated, and disabling of all mental illnesses, is a brain disorder which severely interferes with an individual's ability to think clearly, make decisions, and separate reality from what's happening in their mind. It affects one in every 100 people world-wide, males andfemales equally, has the highest suicide rate of all psychiatric disorders,and predominantly manifests in adolescence through the 30s. While there is still much controversy over the subject, many experts believe schizophrenia isa combination of a number of mental illnesses. Two studies by the National Institutes of Mental Health show that mood disorders (bipolar disorder/depression) are comorbid (present) in 80% of schizophrenics, prompting the belief that they are a fundamental part of the disease, not just a symptom of it. Whileschizophrenia cannot be cured, its symptoms are highly treatable with medication.

Schizophrenia, perhaps the most misunderstood mental illness, is not a splitpersonality, a character floor, nor caused by poor parenting. It is a biological disorder due to very subtle abnormalities in the brain. Symptoms can be divided into three major categories: Positive, Negative, and Disorganized. Positive does not mean good in this sense, but "something that should notbe there." Positive symptoms are often referred to as psychotic because theindividual experiences hallucinations- -hearing voices or seeing things whichare not real, and delusions--believing people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, and plotting against them. Negative symptoms are things which "should be there but are not." They interfere with the person's ability to function and include blunted emotions--laughing or crying is almost nonexistent, lack of motivation or energy--extreme cases need help even with simple tasks like taking a shower or changing clothes, lack of interest--even in the things that once brought pleasure, and limited speech--inabilityto say anything new or carry on a flowing conversation. Disorganized symptoms manifest in confused thought and speech, disjointed conversation, disorganized perceptions which cause everyday sights, sounds, and feelings to become terrifying, and disorganized behavior manifesting in repetitive movements which have no reason or purpose. In severe cases, the individual may becomecatatonic (resisting all attempts to be moved).

Discovery in the 1950s that schizophrenia responded dramatically to drugs settled the debate and determined its cause to be biological. Antipsychotic drugs, such as "atypical antipsychotics" because of fewer side effect--areeither in use or under study. These drugs act on serotonin, norepinephrine and/or dopamine receptors. Increasingly, through brain scans and modern technology, researchers are able to identify areas of the brain in which abnormalities appear, and track the mechanisms of drug action in those areas.

Individuals with no apparent family history of schizophrenia have a 1% changeof develop the disorder; however, the chances increase by 10% for those whose parent or sibling have it; by 40% if both parents have it, and 30% if present in an identical twin.

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