What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that affects approximately 1% of the Irish population. Schizophrenia may be one disorder or many disorders with different causes.

The symptoms can develop at any time, but the illness is more likely to emerge in young adults. It occurs in all races, all cultures, all social classes, and in both sexes.

What causes schizophrenia?

There is no known single cause of schizophrenia. Research has identified a number of factors that appear to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, although it is not yet clear how these factors interact:

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Symptoms may include:

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

The diagnosis is based on the symptoms — what the person says and what the doctor observes. To reach a diagnosis of schizophrenia, other possible causes must be ruled out.

A diagnosis of schizophrenia usually takes a long time because the symptoms either go unrecognised or do not show themselves fully until the illness is advanced.

People who are showing symptoms which may point to schizophrenia should seek medical advice. The first port of call is to a GP who will investigate the symptoms and may refer to a psychiatrist. Diagnosis is not straightforward and sometimes a second opinion may be sought.

How is schizophrenia treated?

Treatments are selected on the basis of their ability to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia and lessen the chances that symptoms will return. A number of treatments and treatment combinations are helpful and more are being developed. The are new classes of drugs which are helpful in controlling symptoms and have fewer side effects. The treatment options include:

What can I do if I am diagnosed with schizophrenia?

Can other people help?

Family, friends, residential or day-care providers and healthcare professionals are very important as a support to people with schizophrenia. For people who have relatives or friends who have or may have schizophrenia, there are an number of things that can be done to help:

What is the outlook for people with schizophrenia?

The outlook for people with schizophrenia has improved over the last 25 years. Although no totally effective therapy has yet been developed, it is important to remember that many people with schizophrenia improve enough to lead independent and fulfilling lives. However, there are some people who will require constant care and attention.

A major advance has been the recent development of new drugs to control symptoms.

Schizophrenia is a complex disorder and the major questions are unlikely to be resolved in the near future. However, a better understanding of the condition can help towards improving the lives of those who have schizophrenia and their families and friends.

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