Symptoms and treatment of schizophrenia

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

BY The Cincinnati Enquirer

Doctors suspect that schizophrenia has genetic links but don't know what causes it. Common early symptoms include:

  • Change in personality (the person seems different from who he - she used to be).

  • Neglect of grooming and hygiene.

  • Lowered performance (or inability to function) at school, work, home, in relationships.

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, social contacts.

  • Loss of initiative and energy; no interest in what used to be fun or pleasurable.

When schizophrenic episodes become more severe, or acute, symptoms worsen and can include:

  • Confused speech; making no sense when talking.

  • Unfounded or weird suspicions; delusions, or beliefs that are out of touch with reality.

  • Hallucinations that affect all five senses. Hearing voices -- often critical -- seems to be most common. Schizophrenics frequently feel as if they're being followed, spied on, talked about by others, talked to through appliances, inordinately inspired by religious books, or feel they can transmit or interpret thoughts directly to and from others.

  • Disjointed thinking; thoughts and ideas that jump at random from one unconnected topic to another.

  • Perplexity and confusion.

  • Dull emotions; lack of feeling or little emotional response. In some people, emotions become jumbled or inappropriate (e.g., laughing in times of sadness).

  • Distress, anxiety, despair.

  • Heightened drive or extra energy, usually unfocused.

As with other mental-health issues, insurance coverages varies widely, depending on the plan.

Treatment, which lasts a lifetime, usually involves a combination of mood-stabilizing medicines, hospital stays for acute episodes of bizarre behavior, counseling, family therapy, even group homes or independent living programs.

A Catch-22 of schizophrenia is that several medicines can help control its symptoms fairly well, allowing some people to hold jobs, live independently and establish relationships.

But once some schizophrenics begin to feel better, they think the drugs are unnecessary, so they stop taking them. When the medicine stops, the schizophrenic behavior returns.

Only a small percentage of schizophrenics exhibit violent behavior. Most news reports of people with schizophrenia who turn violent involve people who stopped taking their medicines.

Source: The Consumer's Guide to Psychotherapy (Simon & Schuster; $17) by Dr. Jack Engler and Dr. Daniel Goleman.

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Resources for information, support

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