When The Unreal Becomes Real

Schizophrenia is hearing voices, not doing voices

To me, there is a girl standing by the mountain, but to you there is no one standing by the mountain. To my eyes what I see is a reality, but that might not necessarily be a reality. This idea of perceived reality is something that some have to live with and that painful state of mind is caused when one is affected by ‘Schizophrenia’.

Hallucinations become so real that one weaves a world of oneself around it and gradually schizophrenic patients start living on a different plane, which is far-fetched from reality. It starts with a single hallucination, sometimes perceived sounds or visuals which initially goes unnoticed, but gradually the frequency and the intensity of the hallucinations keep increasing.

There is no particular reason that can be pinpointed as a contributing factor to Schizophrenia, but it is assumed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role in this. Technically defined as a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to distinguish between reality and perception, Schizophrenia not only affects an individual, but their entire family as a whole. Due to their intense conviction in their perceived notion of reality, it often becomes difficult for caregivers, and at times the actions of the affected patient becomes detrimental to the family members.

So far the greatest single risk factor for developing schizophrenia is having an immediate relative with the disease. If one parent is affected then the risk is about 13 per cent and if both parents are affected then the risk is nearly 50 per cent. But apart from the genetic factor, there are several environmental factors like drug abuse, living conditions and prenatal stressors that might trigger this. Factors such as hypoxia and infection, or stress and malnutrition in the mother during fetal development, may result in a slight increase in the risk of schizophrenia later in life.

Psychiatrists are of the opinion that like all other ailments, even in mental ailments like Schizophrenia, early intervention is necessary. Not just for the patient, but for the family members as well. Due to the stigma associated with mental ailments in general and schizophrenia in particular, family members should not live in denial or try to cover up the symptoms. Rather the earlier the intervention, the easier becomes it management.

In most instances, early symptoms of Schizophrenia can be seen in late adolescence and early adulthood. In 40 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women diagnosed with schizophrenia, the condition manifested itself before the age of 19. Those who go on to develop schizophrenia may experience some non-specific symptoms of social withdrawal, irritability and clumsiness before the onset of the disease. Children who go on to develop schizophrenia may also demonstrate decreased intelligence, decreased motor development, isolated play preference, social anxiety, and poor school performance. But that is not always the case, sometimes exceptions prove the rule better as was seen in the case of Nobel Prize winning American mathematician John Nash, who was diagnosed as Schizophrenic at the age of 31.

As treatment or management of Schizophrenia, apart from medication, psychosocial interventions may be useful like family therapy, supported employment, skills training, token economic interventions, and psychosocial interventions for substance abuse. According to rough estimates, there are about 23.6 million people affected by Schizophrenia globally. And the only preventive steps include abstaining from substance abuse and ensuring that pregnant women take utmost care of themselves so that the baby in the womb does not suffer from any kind of stress.

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