Campbell River and North Island Schizophrenia Society  

Campbell River Branch

About Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a biological illness that affects the brain; it is a brain disorder.  This disorder distorts the senses, making it very difficult for the individual to distinguish what is real from what is not real.  Schizophrenia has specific symptoms due to the physical and biochemical changes in the brain.

The words Schizophrenia comes from the Greek and means split (schizo) and mind (phrenia)--a mind split from reality, or a splitting of the various parts of the thought process.

Schizophrenia is diagnosed after specific symptoms are present for a period of at least six months.  Symptoms are not present all the time; the illness can involve repeated episodes throughout the individual's lifetime.

The risk of suicide for people with schizophrenia is much higher than that found in the general population.  Forty to fifty per cent of people with schizophrenia will attempt suicide at some point, and approximately 10% of individuals with schizophrenia commits suicide.

Some researchers believe schizophrenia is really a group of related illnesses that fall within the same category.  This would mean that schizophrenia is a name for an illness that includes a variety of disorders.  This may be a confusing concept, which doesn't help you when dealing with an illness that is already difficult to understand.  To make this easier to follow, we can compare schizophrenia to diagnosis of "cancer" alone is not specific enough, as cancer is the umbrella name of many different forms of the illness; and the same may be true of schizophrenia.  With schizophrenia, the specifics are still being researched.

There are two illnesses that sound similar to schizophrenia and carry specific schizophrenia-like symptoms.  These are schizoaffective disorder and schizophreniform disorder.

Schizoaffective disorder is an illness where the features of schizophrenia and mood disorder seem to exist at the same time.  That is, the person exhibits symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder (either bipolar disorder or clinical depression).

Schizophreniform disorder is similar to schizophrenia in that two or more of the same symptoms seen in schizophrenia must be present, but the length of time an individual is ill is different.  Schizophreniform disorder lasts between one to six months.

Schizophrenia is a physical illness--just like cancer, diabetes, or heart illness.  As the American psychotherapist and writer Julie T. Johnson noted: Psychiatric disorders [such as schizophrenia] are the #1 reason for hospital admissions in this country and are more common than cancer, diabetes, heart illness, and arthritis combined.  In Canada, 865 of hospitalizations for mental illness occur in general hospitals.

Ten Facts You Should Know About Schizophrenia

1  Schizophrenia is a biochemical brain illness which results in disordered thinking, delusions, hallucinations, and a lack of energy and motivation.

2  Schizophrenia typically strikes people in their late teens or twenties.

3  Schizophrenia strikes one in every one hundred people.  That adds up to 280,000 individuals who have or will have schizophrenia in Canada in their life time.

4  Schizophrenia patients occupy one in every twelve hospital beds in Canada--more beds than are needed for any other single illness, except cardiovascular illness. 

5  Schizophrenia costs us more than $2.3 billion in direct health care costs in Canada, and an additional $2 billion in direct health care costs in Canada, and an additional $2 billion in indirect costs such as welfare, family benefits, community support, etc.  91996)

6  Schizophrenia has no cure, yet.

7  Schizophrenia drastically affects people quality of life.  Many people in prison have the illness, as do about one-third of the homeless.  Forty per cent of people with schizophrenia try to commit suicide; ten per cent succeed.

8  Living with schizophrenia is a major burden for the individual and his/her family.  There is a stigma attached to the illness; families often come under enormous stress from trying to cope with schizophrenia.

9  Schizophrenia research in Canada is funded at about one-tenth of the rate of other major illnesses, if you measure against the total health care costs for each illness.

10  Schizophrenia suffers from very low public awareness.  As a consequence, people with schizophrenia and their families suffer because of too little research, and too little understanding.

Causes of Schizophrenia

Sometimes schizophrenia-like symptoms may occur with other diseases, such as Huntington's disease, phenylketonuria, Wilson's disease, epilepsy, tumor, encephalitis, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, and numerous other diseases.  The real schizophrenia is diagnosed when these other conditions are excluded as the source of psychotic symptoms.

The precise cause of schizophrenia remains unknown.  Changes in key brain functions, such as perception, emotions, and behaviour, indicate that the brain is the biological site of schizophrenia.  Some researchers suspect neurotransmitters (the substances through which cells communicate) may be involved.

There may be changes in dopamine, serotonin, or other neurotransmitters.  The limbic system (an area of the brain involved with emotion), the thalamus (which coordinates outgoing messages), and several other brain regions may also be affected.

SCHIZOPHRENIA DEFINITELY IS:

  • NOT caused by childhood experiences
  • NOT caused by poverty
  • NOT caused by domineering mothers/passive fathers
  • NOT caused by parental negligence, and
  • NOT caused by guilt, failure, or misbehaviour.

(Source: Stengthening Families Together - Schizophrenia Society of Canada) 

Schizophrenia and schizophrenic are two of the most misused words in the English language.

● Schizophrenia is widely perceived as a split personality or multiple personality disorder.
It is neither.

●  Schizophrenia is often connected with violence.
It shouldn’t be.

 Schizophrenia is a disease of the brain.

● It distorts one’s perception of reality, making it difficult for the ill person to tell what is real from what’s not real.

●  Individuals may have any combination of the following symptoms: hallucinations, delusions or false beliefs, disorganized speech, disorganized behaviour, apathy, and social withdrawal. 

● 1 in 100 people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia. 

● Schizophrenia usually strikes young people in the late teens to early adult years; commonly between the ages of 15-25 years for men, and 25-35 years in women.

 Research supports:

● the belief that schizophrenia is “a chemical imbalance in the brain”.

● the idea that genetic vulnerability factors in combination with environmental influences (like stress or taking drugs) can lead to the chemical imbalances in the brain that happen in schizophrenia. 

 Schizophrenia is treatable.  Early assessment, ongoing medical treatment, and social supports are critically necessary.  These together with education greatly improve the outcome for the individual and their family.