Understanding Schizophrenia Essay

This essay has a total of 2848 words and 15 pages.


Understanding Schizophrenia





Sara Marie Prazak
Crisis Communication



Understanding Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, although affecting only one percent of the population, has a direct affect
on society today. This disease, if left untreated, poses threat to health care
professionals (including psychiatrists), law enforcement personnel, and family members
responsible for the care and support of the schizophrenia patient. This paper addresses
the causes of schizophrenia and the myths surrounding this complicated ailment, the affect
of untreated or misunderstood aspects of schizophrenia has on society and important crisis
intervention strategies for those in close contact to victims of schizophrenia.

The definition of schizophrenia is a group of psychotic disorders characterized by
disturbances in thought, perception, affect, behavior and communication that endures
longer than six months. Psychotic symptoms could include delusions (beliefs that are
false in light of direct evidence of truth), hallucinations, incoherence (confused logic),
catatonic behavior (bizarre physical movement) or flat affect (showing no emotion).
(Lehman 15)

Three types of schizophrenia exist; these are catatonic, paranoid, and disorganized. The
catatonic schizophrenic is often negative, easily excitable, usually cannot take care of
personal needs, little sensitivity to painful stimulus. The paranoid type has delusional
thoughts that are frightening (usually of persecution), anxiety, anger, violent
tendencies, and argumentative. The disorganized type is incoherent, displays flat affect,
delusional, hallucinates, laughs at inappropriate times and lives life as a hermit.
(Lehman 15)

The causes of schizophrenia remain unknown, but several theories exist explaining possible
causes of the debilitating disease. Genetics may play a significant role because close
relatives of a person with schizophrenia are more likely to develop the disorder. The
risk is even greater for those relatives who are genetically similar to the schizophrenic.
This theory poses important debates however. If schizophrenia is caused by simple
genetics, identical twins should both be affected by schizophrenia if one twin has been
diagnosed. It is rare to find a majority of identical twins affected. Studies have found
there to be a weak genetic link to schizophrenia. A recent study of high-risk children
found there to be little proof of a genetic link.


The contrast between offspring of ill parents and offspring of normal parents was
significant only for gross motor skills, but the direct affect of an ill parent on
development of schizophrenia-related psychoses was not significant, which indicated a weak
genetic model. (Erlenmeyer-Kimling, 28)



Erlenmeyer-Kimling also noted that environment and early developmental damage could play a
role in the onset on schizophrenia. This disease may have a series of triggers that could
bring on the onset of the disease. These triggers could include complications during
pregnancy and/or labor, prenatal exposure to a virus (especially in the fifth month when
brain development occurs), and stress throughout the stages of life. (Dincin 103)

Because of the complexity of the disease, many myths surround schizophrenia. One of these
myths is poor parenting causes schizophrenia. Sigmund Freud and psychiatrists since him
have regarded the family as the key in the development of personality. Traits of
dysfunctional families are labeled "contradictory expectations" and "covert rejection".
The problem with solely blaming the family for the onset of schizophrenia is these studies
often lack controls. Until the late 1970s, mothers were still blamed for the onset of
schizophrenia in their child. "No good evidence supports the theory that family
environment causes schizophrenia and very strong evidence supports biological factors as
the cause" ( Dincin 105 ). Some people believe that schizophrenics are mentally retarded,
but the two conditions are entirely different. Schizophrenia does cause some cognitive
problems, but does not affect overall intelligence. Schizophrenia occurs in people of all
levels of intelligence and talent.

Another myth is that schizophrenia is the same as a "split personality". Since the word
schizophrenia comes from two Greek words meaning "split mind", confusion arose about the
differences between schizophrenia and split personality. The Greek terminology refers to
the breakdown of an individual's thinking and feeling processes, not a split personality,
(Swanson 25). Other ridiculous myths exist, including schizophrenia is caused by a curse,
God's punishment, a lack of faith in God, a demonic possession, result of a broken heart,
and even reading to many books. (McGlashan 329)

How do doctors diagnose the disease? Many doctors look the patient's developmental
background (motor skills, memory deficiencies), genetic and family history, current stress
factors, level of functioning before becoming ill, responses to therapy, and a CT scan of
the head to reveal any enlarged ventricles. (Lehman 15)

The CT scans below show the enlarged ventricles of a schizophrenic and the normal sized
ventricles of a person without any mental illness.

Scientists look at the region of the brain known as the "limbic region". It contains the
complex system of nerve pathways and networks. This area is responsible for human
functions such as fear, rage, pleasure and memory patterns. The difference in the limbic
systems of schizophrenics and healthy patients are visible to the naked eye. (Dincin 102).

A schizophrenic brain is like a radio tuned into several stations at once. Dincin explains:

Research into the operation of the brain has shown that people with schizophrenia have
problems with certain types of brain cells called inhibitory interneurons. These damp
down the action of other nerve cells. Thus they prevent the brain from being overwhelmed
by too much sensory information from the environment. (Dincin 102)


Schizophrenia can be a devastating disease if not treated or ignored. Many times if a
mentally ill person has intentions of becoming violent, red flags exist to alert those
around them of any danger. According to Torrey, three primary predictors exist. The most
important being a history of violence. In trying to predict future violence, the person's
history is the single most important piece of information. The second predictor is drug
and/or alcohol abuse. A growing number of studies indicate a significant link between
schizophrenia, substance abuse, and violence. The third predictor is the failure to take
medication. According to Torrey, those who do not take their prescribed medication are
more likely to commit violent acts. Torrey says that the strongest predictors of violence
in the mentally ill are the feelings that others are out to harm them and feeling that
their mind “is dominated by forces beyond their control or that thoughts are being
put into their head”. (Torrey 250-252)

Several accounts of run-ins with violent schizophrenics have happened in the United States
and around the world over the years. In September of 1997, a father who was a paranoid
schizophrenic murdered his six-year-old daughter and mother in a Toronto suburb. He
believed he was the Messiah and believed his daughter was Satan. He’d sworn off
medication and was, according to his doctor, “almost functioning on
auto-pilot”. The schizophrenic man did not really believe his daughter and mother
were dead. (Stanford 1)

Another man killed two US Capitol police officers in 1998, because he believed he was
cloned at birth, had invented a machine to turn back time, that the CIA had been spying on
him with satellites, and that President Clinton had planned the Kennedy assassination out
of jealousy for Marilyn Monroe. (Mohandie 9)

In Portland, another woman bludgeoned her mother to death with a 23-pound rock after she
was convinced her mother was Satan. (Hedges 1)

Not only can schizophrenics harm others, but they can harm themselves as well. According
to Clin, patients with panic disorder are reportedly at higher risk of suicidal behavior.
Major depression was diagnosed in 59% of the seventeen suicide victims studied and
substance abuse was reported in 47% of the cases. (Clin 276)

A myth surrounding schizophrenia is that one can never recover from it. The truth is some
people recover completely from the illness (all psychotic symptoms disappear). Others
continue to have some symptoms, but can lead satisfying and productive lives. One-third
of patients do not recover and may have to be institutionalized. (Duncan 1135))

Schizophrenia suffers a reputation worse than that of a criminal. According to one US
survey, an ex-mental patient was rated less acceptable than an ex-convict. (Monohan 512)

How then should a health care provider or family member handle the first episode of
schizophrenia? The first episode of schizophrenia typically occurs in the late teens or
early twenties. The goal of treatment is to bring about a rapid end to the first episode
with the most effective and best tolerated drugs. After clinical treatment, however, most
schizophrenics find it difficult to achieve in school, employment, and relationships.
According to Frangou, the family must work with the patient and increase their knowledge
of the condition. They must nurture relationships and communication.

Frangou stresses that treating a schizophrenia patient must be done rapidly, with
“swift initiation of treatment in a setting that does not have a stigma attached to
Continues for 8 more pages >>




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