Schizophrenia is a most misunderstood disease. It will affect one in every100 Americans during their lifetime, yet too often it is hidden in the closet by families and ignored by professionals. A revolution is underway, for schizophrenia is emerging. Schizophrenia is now known to be a disease of the brain and is not caused by any guilty acts or failures of the patient. Like diabetics, schizophrenics may be able to control their symptoms with medication. This paper will discuss the effects, symptoms, and treatments for this illness.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder marked by the loss of contact with reality. When a person’s thinking, feeling, and behavior is abnormal, it interferes with his or her ability to function in everyday life. Delusions, hallucinations, and irregular thinking and emotions are produced. If these signs are present, he or she may have the mental illness called schizophrenia. Inter-episode residual symptoms are common. This often-chronic illness can be characterized by three phases that merge into one another without absolute, clear boundaries between them. The first phase is the acute phase. During this florid psychotic phase, patients exhibit severe psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and/or hallucinations and severely disorganized thinking, and are usually unable to care for themselves appropriately. Negative symptoms often become more severe as well. In the next stage, the stabilization phase, acute psychotic symptoms decrease in severity. This phase may last for 6 or more months after the onset of an acute episode. The third phase is the stable phase. Symptoms are relatively stable and, if present at all, are almost always less severe than in the acute phase. Patients can be asymptomatic; others may manifest non-psychotic symptoms, such as tension, anxiety, depression, or insomnia. When negative (deficit) symptoms and/or positive symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, or thought disorder, persist, they are often present in attenuated, non-psychotic forms (e.g., illusions rather than hallucinations, overvalued ideas rather than delusions) (American Psychiatric Associations “guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Schizophrenia”).
About one hundred years ago, schizophrenia was first recognized as a mental disorder and researchers have been searching for a cure ever since. The cause of the disease is still unknown today and scientists have concluded that it has more than one cause. Scientists have developed dozens of theories: the Genetic Theory, the Environmental Theory, the Biochemical Theory, and the Bio-Psycho-Social Theory.
The Genetic Theory argues that schizophrenia is caused by traits in a person’s genetic makeup. A normal person has twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. Each pair contains one chromosome from each parent. In corresponding locations called loci of each chromosome, the genes can cause schizophrenia. We inherit our genes form out parents, but this does not mean that the parents of a schizophrenic are mentally ill. Problems in a person’s genetic makeup could come from a mutated chromosomes or recessive genes. In an attempt to prove this theory, scientists studied identical twins. Due to the fact that identical twins have identical genetic makeup, researchers are able to determine if the heredity is the main cause of schizophrenia. However, evidence seems to disprove this theory. In some instances, both identical twins are schizophrenics and other times only one is affected. To defend this theory it should be noted that this research is complicated. Identical twins are relatively rare, especially twins who are both diagnosed with schizophrenia. Studies have also shown that children with one parent diagnosed with schizophrenia have a ten percent chance of suffering from schizophrenia. When both parents are schizophrenic their risk raises to approximately forty percent.
Little is known about the Environmental Theory. The theory is built mainly on the effects of stress on human behavior. Most researchers agree that stress alone cannot be the main cause of schizophrenia. Most researchers agree that stress could possibly trigger or worsen the symptoms when the illness is already present. Other researchers focus on drug abuse, like stress, certain drugs such as amphetamines can make psychotic symptoms worse if a person already has schizophrenia. Furthermore, these drugs can, in a sense, create schizophrenia. Other researchers that support the Environmental Theory believe that “slow viruses” may be to blame. Slow viruses are viral infections that go undetected for long periods of time. Signs and symptoms are delayed and may occur many years after the first infection.
The Bio-Chemical Theory suggests that schizophrenia is caused by mixed up signals in the brain. When something acts upon one of our senses, electrical impulses are sent to the brain. These