Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder in which the boundary between imagination and reality becomes blurred. The sick person often lacks awareness of their disease, which makes the condition more difficult to treat. This does not mean that they cannot be counted on, or that they cannot be themselves again.
What is schizophrenia?
35,000 Swedes live with the serious illness of schizophrenia, which involves long-term psychosis. Psychosis means that the perception of reality is distorted, which can produce symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and behavioural changes. Hallucinations may be experienced with all of the senses. The most common hallucinations consist of sounds in the form of voices, which make comments or command the sick person to do things. When a schizophrenic person starts to obey the voices, this can become dangerous and rapid help is then required.
A delusion means having a firm belief that things are a certain way, although others know that this is not true. For example, a sick person may believe they are being persecuted, have been poisoned or that their life has been threatened. A thing or event is suddenly interpreted as something else, or more, than it actually is. Hearing someone speak can be misinterpreted as someone saying bad things about the sick person, and a television programme can suddenly be perceived as a secret message addressed to them.
Perceptions of being monitored by camera or microphone are common. Reasoning that is unreasonable to others may be experienced as reality during psychosis. Other symptoms of schizophrenia are changes in the way a person communicates, such as reduced speech, a numb emotional life and lack of motivation.
Most people who suffer from schizophrenia do so in their twenties and thirties. Why a person becomes ill is not known, but heredity is a major risk factor. Excessive stresses such as injuries in-utero, life crises and cannabis abuse may also have an effect.
How does this affect a person’s life?
The progression of the disease lasts for at least six months but it may be lifelong. It may be disabling and leave deep traces on a person’s self-esteem. The person may not be able to work or study anymore, they may turn inward or have outbursts of anger. Schizophrenia can make it difficult to feel like yourself and it may produce uneasiness, anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
A psychotic episode can result in fear and shame. It may be difficult but it is also important to tell someone how you feel. The behaviour is an illness for which treatment is available.
Is it possible to feel better?
Although the disease is chronic, it often becomes more mild over the years. With the right conditions, the sick person can live a normal life like anyone else. In addition to treatment, it is important to have supportive social relationships and meaningful daily activities. Healthy habits such as good food and sleep also make things easier, since the illness has a tendency to lead to addiction and depression.
If you suspect that you or a relative have psychosis or are at risk of developing it, you should contact a youth or adult psychiatric clinic. Treatment for schizophrenia is necessary to feel better and also to help prevent relapses.
Diagnosis and treatment
In order to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the disorder must have lasted for at least six months. An examination is needed to rule out other causes of psychosis, such as other illnesses or the effects of medications or drugs. There are antipsychotic drugs that can reduce the symptoms and make life easier for people with schizophrenia. The treatment includes support through conversation and psychotherapy. It is also important for the sick person to receive help and support as soon as possible to find a suitable job or to return to their previous job. This is the case even if the person is not yet symptom-free.
Security is important, and therefore it is advisable to receive treatment at home or in a special ward when you are most ill. Relatives may also need support as it may be stressful to be close to the illness.