Schizophrenia is an illness that impacts a person’s judgement, experience and categorization of reality.
Like many mental health disorders it has an unfortunate stigma attached to it, which is unfair to the people who are living with this illness. It is important to remember that the experience of reality is subjective and correlated to the functioning of the brain. Everyone has a base reality. If you are hungry or tired – it effects how you perceive reality- however you may still be able to understand that it is hunger or fatigue that is changing the way you think and function.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness, where the brain makes loose associations, correlating ideas, events and feelings together that do not make sense to others. This makes it difficult for people with schizophrenia to maintain a connection with a base reality, which often isolates them from friends and family, potentially contributing to the development of multiple other factors such as drug abuse, depression, anxiety and a lack of support.
What does Schizophrenia look and feel like?
Schizophrenia is episodic. People usually experience their first episode in their early 20’s. An episode can come on slowly or rapidly, changing the way a person perceives and reacts to their own identity and the surrounding world. This is called psychosis. The height of a psychotic episode may include delusions, visual or auditory hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing visions). A person’s thoughts, behaviors or beliefs about themselves and others during a psychotic episode will seem out of place to an outsider (such as having the ability to fly or being at the centre of a conspiracy).
Once someone experiences multiple psychotic episodes it becomes more likely that they will experience them throughout their life. The sooner that someone receives treatment for their illness, research shows that they have a much greater chance of minimizing the impacts of future episodes.
*The experience of a psychotic episode does not always preclude Schizophrenia. During the onset of an episode hospitalization is encourage in order for a person to be stabilize and begin the process of diagnosis, therapy, rehabilitation and recovery.
Warning Signs for Schizophrenia
- Slow or sudden withdrawal from social activity
- Depression or mania
- Sleep problems
- Lack of energy, strange expressions of emotion or bursts of energy that seem out of context
- Paranoia or suspicion
- Making odd associations or statements
- Problems with concentration
- Decline in personal hygiene and general self care
- Difficulty taking care of oneself and functioning in all aspects of life (school, work & socially)
- Auditory or visual hallucinations
- Delusions about reality
- Disorganized speech and though process
- Lack of speech, flat emotions, apparent apathy
Please Note: Only a trained and licensed psychologist and or psychiatrist can make an official diagnosis. If you or someone you know may be experiencing a variety of these symptoms, lasting 30 days or more, go to a hospital or seek out a Montreal psychologist or psychotherapist to help with diagnosis or creation of a therapy treatment plan. Click here to make an initial appointment.
Is Schizophrenia treatable?
Yes. Although there is no cure for the disease, do not despair. Despite a common belief that schizophrenia is untreatable, many people living with this serious mental illness are able to achieve mental wellness. Treatment includes maintaining the right combination of: an active support network, ongoing counselling or other therapy, a healthy lifestyle, a system set up to recognize triggers and the warning signs of an episode and for many, antipsychotic medication.
After a Schizophrenic Episode
The most important and helpful part of recovery is to understand that even if you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia you are still a unique person separate from your illness with the ability to take control of your illness. Schizophrenia does not define who you are as a person. It is an illness. Just like a person suffering from a physical illness you must manage your symptoms by paying attention to when they arrive an immediately take action to minimize pain and suffering.
Factors that contribute to recovery after an episode:
- Staying clean from drugs and alcohol
- Creation of an identity and life separate from ones illness
- Regular sleep and eating habits
- A non-judgmental support system
- Education & support of the family
- Support groups and communication with other people living with Schizophrenia
- Individual Therapy* to help learn coping skills and process feelings, experiences and fears.
- Get help with keeping track of your symptoms & learning illness management skills
- Recognize the warning signs and potential triggers for a relapse and get help right away
- Utilize helpful community resources such as job training workshops & other social integration and vocational programs
Reacting to A Person’s Schizophrenic Episode
Every person’s episodic symptoms are unique to them. It is very important to not judge a person who is experiencing a psychotic episode or tell them that their reality is false. For them it is real and it is unhelpful for them to be told it is not. This will only further stigmatize or isolate them, decreasing the potential for them to voluntarily check themselves into a hospital or engaging in therapy with a psychologist or psychotherapist.
If you want to help someone experiencing an episode or connect with them focus on the feelings that their hallucinations or delusions bring up for them- not the hallucinations themselves. Don’t argue or be patronizing: talk about things that you have in common, or do a non-threatening activity (gardening, playing cards, sports). It is important to keep an open mind and be supportive. Help them to engage as soon as possible in the process of learning about their illness, rehabilitation and reclaiming control.
What does it mean to “hear voices”?
Many people have had the experience of feeling like there is a critical voice or a reassuring voice inside of them. The classic representation of this in our modern culture is having an angle on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The intensified vocal hallucinations that someone living with schizophrenia experiences are typically outside of their control and vary from person to person.
Voices can be experienced inside the head or outside the body, as the presence of another being, or even represented in nonverbal sensations, tastes or smells. Some voices tell people what to do, engage them in conversation or talk about them in the 3rd person. Negative voices may prevent a person from speaking about their voices for fear of punishment or social stigma.
Acknowledging that the voices are there is the first step. New research has shown that it is not useful to try to ignore voices and medication will not get rid of them. Understanding a person’s relationship to their voices is the key to learning how to cope with them. The goal is to create a distance from ones voices, listen to them, carefully explore them and work towards not allowing them to be in control of you.
Those who learn to not feel controlled by their voices can create meaning for themselves about them. If this is accomplished, research suggests that hearing voices can become a positive and meaningful experience for someone and even help with maintaining stability. Ongoing psychotherapy from a Montreal therapist can help guide this process.
- A history of mental illness in the family, drug abuse, as well as environmental stress increases ones chances for developing schizophrenia.
- Not all psychotic episodes are related to schizophrenia.
- Patterns of drug and alcohol abuse often develop as a way to self-medicate. Therefore psychotherapy & recovery plans should involve a substance abuse element.
- Fight stigmatization! The symptoms of Schizophrenia create problems maintaining relationships= social isolation = creation of an “outcast” identity= difficulty maintaining a needed support system and healthy self-identity = more difficultly with recovery.
- Learn to see schizophrenia for what it is and illness that you can take control of.
- People living with schizophrenia have and increase risk for suicide.
- Recovery often necessitates regular and continued medication, however medication has side effects and will not create healthy coping skills Therefore continued psychotherapy or other counselling services in Montreal are crucial for recovery.
- It is important to have an ongoing and open dialogue about medication with your doctor and therapist.
- Continuing with therapy and medication once someone has been stabilized is important in preventing a relapse
- Anti-psychotic medication has side effects- be aware of them and talk to your doctor about them.
- Taking vitamins and other nutritional supplements can be very helpful.
- It can be difficult for family members to deal with a loved one’s mental illness. Make sure you get help and support for yourself also and keep yourself educated.
Montreal therapists are available to support you establish healthy coping mechanisms and maintain your ongoing recovery. Psychotherapy can also help family members deal with a loved one’s illness. Click here to make an initial appointment.