Schizophrenia - fact and fiction

The truth about schizophrenia...

Schizophrenia is a much misunderstood condition. It refers to an illness where a person has difficulty in distinguishing what is real and what is imaginary, making them behave bizarrely. The most popular misconception about schizophrenia is that it describes a person suffering from multiple personalities, who may be violent. While such a condition may make for a good Hollywood movie, in reality it is extremely rare. Schizophrenia is another thing entirely.

The recent 'comedy' film 'Me, myself and Irene' that depicted a 'Jekyll and Hyde' character with schizophrenia was typical of the stereotyping that surrounds this common mental illness. A more accurate portrayal of the condition is seen in the film, 'A beautiful mind'.

Stereotypes in cinema

Among the most enduring images of mental illness are from films such as 'Psycho', 'Hallowee'n' and the 'Friday the 13th' series but these do not depict people with schizophrenia. With the illness there is no split between good and evil, no satanic possession.

The confusion arises from the very term itself - 'schizophrenia' - it comes from two Greek words which translate as 'split mind'. In fact, schizophrenia is less of a coherent condition but rather a term used to describe a range of disorders, none of which relate to having multiple personalities.

Because of a number of high profile cases which have involved people with schizophrenia in violent activity, the general public also misconceive the illness as involving a dangerously psychotic condition. John Saunders, the Director of the Lucia Foundation, Ireland's national schizophrenia organisation, is highly critical of the misunderstandings that surround the public perception of the illness.

"If you look at the tabloid press, you can still see the 'psycho schizo murderer' headlines. However, the broadsheet press are more sensitive and responsible in their reporting", he says. "It is a big misconception that people with schizophrenia are violent. They are no more violent that the rest of the population". People with schizophrenia may hear persecutory voices which makes them much more vulnerable because of their increased risk of suicide, he added.

Suicide risk

It is conservatively estimated that people with schizophrenia are ten times more likely than the general population to take their own lives as a result of wishing to escape from their own private hell. Since between 1% and 1.5% of people in Western societies may suffer from schizophrenia, that means a lot of lives are at risk.

A graph which illustrates that schizophrenia is more common than many other serious conditions.

The symptoms of schizophrenia vary from person to person, but they tend to involve some difficulty in distinguishing reality and in managing their emotional responses. Some of those with the condition experience hallucinations, both auditory and occasionally visual, while others suffer from delusions, paranoia and anxiety. The common thread appears to be disordered thinking, which all of those with schizophrenia experience in some form.

Syd Barrett - the early driving force behind the famous rock band Pink Floyd, suffered from schizophrenia and had to give up music.

While schizophrenia can occur at any stage of life, it is extremely rare after the age of 40 and quite uncommon after the age of 30. Predominantly the illness affects younger people and 75% of sufferers will first experience the onset of schizophrenia between the ages of 16 and 25.

A difficult illness

Because schizophrenia tends to strike so early, many talented young people's futures have been cut short by this difficult illness. The debilitating nature of schizophrenia has cut off many talented artists and scientists just as their careers were getting underway. However, improvements in treatments have meant that many people with schizophrenia can not only expect to keep their symptoms under control, but also hope one day to be cured.

Vaslav Nijinsky - legendary dancer and composer who suffered from schizophrenia.

A case in point is Nobel prizewinner John F Nash who suffered from schizophrenia for decades. Described in 1958 as the most promising young mathematician in the world, it was only a few years later that he began to experience the paranoia, delusions and auditory hallucinations that are the hallmark of schizophrenia.

"The staff at my university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later all of Boston were behaving strangely towards me", he explained. "I started to see crypto-communists everywhere. I started to think I was a man of great religious importance and to hear voices all the time. I began to hear something like telephone calls in my head, from people opposed to my ideas. The delirium was like a dream from which I seemed never to awake".

Nobel prize winner John F Nash, whose career in mathematics and economics was blighted for years by schizophrenia.

Though Nash was able to continue with his work in mathematics and economics, developing the famous 'game' theory which earned him the Nobel Prize for Economics, he was regularly admitted to hospital. After 15 years of schizophrenia symptoms he recovered from the condition in 1974. His story is told in the Oscar winning film, 'A beautiful mind'.

New treatments

In Ireland, newly developed medications offer most people diagnosed with schizophrenia the chance to regain a normal life. The more modern drugs currently in use are reported to offer good control of symptoms with less of the sedation and side effects that older medications induce. It is essential for patients to remain on their medication throughout their lives however and if a patient does not comply they can expect their condition to return.

"Most people diagnosed with schizophrenia will have one or two acute bouts of the illness but will afterwards receive treatment and be well again", explains John Saunders. "One in four will have to be sporadically admitted to hospital throughout their lives, while another 25% will require total care".

Gaps in services

He believes that the quality of care received by patients in Ireland varies from region to region. While some health board areas offer substantial support from community services and access to 'talking cures' such as psychotherapy, others focus on a rigidly medical model. This means that a patient in one part of the country may receive guidance and counselling, while elsewhere a similar patient may languish in an institutional environment receiving only medication to deal with their symptoms.

"People with schizophrenia need support, redirection and training", he says. "The more education carers and patients have about the condition, the better the outlook. Some people need counselling, because stress, trauma and drug abuse are major triggers of the illness. We would like to see a national review of psychiatric services in this country because there is a major need to develop more community services for people with illnesses like schizophrenia".


Anonymous - 11/10/2001 10:44

V. Interesting - Would like more information on the condition itself however

Anonymous - 11/10/2001 16:11

I would be interested to know if it is more common in men than women. Also is there a hereditary aspect to this condition, as I know of two brothers who have had the symptons, one of which was diagnosed.

Anonymous - 12/10/2001 09:58

I don't know if it statistically affects more men than women, but anecdotally it seems that way to me. Certainly, they do think there is a hereditary element to it, but in most cases there is no family history.

Anonymous - 14/10/2001 16:31

My dad's sister & brother have been confirmed with this illness( both in there 30's),but my dad's mam or dad don't have it neither do any of there has this happened in this particular generation???

Anonymous - 22/10/2001 10:42

I welcomed your recent article about schizophrenia. It is my view that a lot of people suffering from this condition are never told  what their illness is  there is so much sitgma attached to this illness,If they and their families were given a diagnosis,Im sure they would cope a lot better.And see the need for medication. Last night I watched the programme Would You Belive on RTE ,The three cases talk about all condemed medication,Whilst I can understand a lot of mental illness might be treatable with out the use of medication ,I feel that this program masy have given a message that many people who do need medication will start to think they can disregared their medication.There are so many differant types of mental illness ,Some of which do need medication,It is vital for those suffering from Schizophrenia.I know from 10 years of experiance,all the Psycotherapy, and counceling are to no avail without the medication,Finding the right medication can be a long haul it took almost 10 years before my son was put on Chlozaril ,He had been non responsive to other medication,He is now working and leading a normal life,Had he watched the program last night he may have been tempted to say he could do with out medication. It must be made clear that all mental illnesses are not caused by some up setting life experiances,and whilst some illnesses can be talked through this is not always the case.I do not know how to contact the group who put put this program out as no contacts addresses were given,However I do think it is good that groups are beging set up to help the sufferes of mental illness.

Anonymous - 25/10/2001 22:19

What is the difference between Schizophrenia and a mood disorder? One Consultant said that my spouce was suffering from Schizophrenia, and another said he was suffering from a Mood Disorder-that is why I am asking the difference.!!

Anonymous - 27/10/2001 19:50

what are the criteria for diagnosing schizophrenia,do all counsultants use the same criteria,It seems to me depending on who your consultant is,you could be like the previous writer says be diagnosed,and treated incorrectly.I think there should be some way of insuring that all counsultants are using reconised criteria.Would it be posible for the writter of the article ,to answer some of the questions put forward.

Anonymous - 31/10/2001 10:52

As far as questions about dignosing schizophrenia go, I think it is up to individual consultants to explain not only the diagnoses that they make, but also by what manner they came to make those diagnoses in individual cases to the individuals concerned. There is no blood test for schizophrenia in the way that one can easily test for diabetes, for example. If people have concerns about schizophrenia diagnoses, they should seek a second opinion, or at least demand from their consultant to know how they came to that conclusion.

Anonymous - 06/02/2002 23:30

Good article

Anonymous - 06/04/2002 19:20

My son has recently been diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I would be interested to hear about counselling for both him and the family. I think it mat help him to cope.

Anonymous - 10/04/2002 09:43

I do believe the medicine is an important part of helping to lead as near as normal a life when you are Schizophrenic. My mam was diagnosed about 30 years ago and it was an upward struggle to get her to take her medicine and for her go for her weekly injections. I do feel that if my mam had been consistent in her medication that life would have been a little bit easier. It's hard and traumatic for the sufferer and his/her family. My mam had electric shock treatment for her condition at the beginning, as that was the treatment at that time. We have often wondered as a family if this has had a long lasting effect on her ?

kfrommelt - 01/05/2002 16:33

Although I'm glad it brought schizophrenia out into the public forum for discussion, I was dismayed that A Beautiful Mind seemed to indicate that the love of a beautiful woman was the best medicine. I have a sister who has suffered with schizophrenia for 30 years. The best thing I've ever read was in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 1999;60 (suppl 11) called "Expert Consensus Treatment Guidelines for Schizophrenia: A Guide for Patients and Families". It does a very good job of dividing the progression of the disease into three major directions after the first psychotic episode. For everyone out there suffering along with a child or sibling, know that you are understood. You will find we are not alone if you speak up about the problem instead of letting the stigma shame the family.

Anonymous - 02/05/2002 22:41

Dear Anonymous writer on the 27th of October, 2001. I am the writer on the 25/10/2001, and yes, I would be able to answer some questions. Sorry I am so late in reading this.-P.

Anonymous - 18/07/2002 12:12

As a sufferer for years I want to make a comment on the film A Beautiful Mind, it was very much a Hollywood treatment and did not reflect John Nash's life as in the book which I read. While there were general similarities in his condition and mine, I think sufferers have very different experiences, I am on medication now and lead a "normal" life, I work and this work gives my life a structure which I need. I was in a loving relationship for years and when this broke down due to my condition I had a breakdown and was hospitalised. I still get bouts of depression. I think the love of another can make all the difference in anyone's life not only sufferers of depression. It was this support that kept me stable for years although my episodes were eventually too much. I can never explain my psychotic & delusional times and can only think that if I was on medication in time that they would not have occurred. I am on Risperdal.

Anonymous - 03/07/2003 11:58

to kfrommelt, the film "a beautiful mind" merely portrayed what happened in John Nash's experience and life in dealing with schizophrenia and was not generalising the condition in any way

Anonymous - 18/07/2003 22:46

my son has been recently diagnosed. he is only 11. how common is this?

Anonymous - 30/09/2003 11:19

My wife had an acute psychotic episode at the start of the summer and has been on reducing dosages of zyprexa since then. The initial onset occured with her "hearing voices" and having conversations with these voices and then a belief that she was telepathic and paranoia about being watched and monitored. The initial onset was brought on by extreme pressure at work. Although she has responded well to medication it has been the only treatment, I feel that the lack of "talking" treatment makes it very differcult as we have no forum to ask questions. Just simple things like: How are we doing? Is she Schizophrenic? When will we know? How long will she have to stay on medication? The doctor has not provided answers to these questions. Our lives have changed radically, my wife used to be a confident, strong professional woman who is now full of self doubt, panics easily and increasingly relies on me in almost every regard. I would appreciate any comments from people on how they have coped and what I can to to help my wife recover.

Anonymous - 10/12/2003 12:04

I posted the last update to this discussion on the 30th of September and I felt it might be useful for other people to provide a further update on how my wife has been progressing. Since my last post my wife has been back to work and is continuing on 5mg of Zyprexa per day. She has been coping quite well with work, which she returned to around the time of my last post, but in the last 4-6 weeks she had been increasingly becoming upset and feeling that she hated her job and wanted to give it up and stay at home and of course she is still lacking in self confidence as well as displaying some other negative symptoms although thankfully there has been no reoccurrence of the positive symptoms. On the treatment side we stayed in the public health system but we found that we were being passed from SHO to SHO and there was no continuity between the Doctors who we dealt with and they have seemed inclined to continue providing prescriptions and adopting a “steady as she goes” approach. Based on the advice of a friend who is a doctor we have decided to go private and have gone to the consultant who initially assessed my wife in the public system as she was familiar with the case. The consultant felt that the Zyprexa may have done it’s job and may in fact be causing my wife to be depressed and consequently has made the decision to reduce the dosage to 2.5mgs for a week and then to take my wife off her medication. Obviously we are delighted that the consultant has made this decision which we feel is a positive step forward but equally we are concerned that there may be a reoccurrence of the symptoms we have experienced over the past year, which the consultant has acknowledged, is a possibility but for now we have our fingers crossed. I will post an update in the new year as to how the new approach is progressing. Happy Christmas

Anonymous - 10/12/2003 14:19

Thank you for the update, I hope your wife will keep improving. You sound like a very caring and kind husband. Have a good Christmas.

Anonymous - 20/02/2004 12:15

My daughter has been diagnosed as Schizoaffective disorder which basically means she has the negative symptoms of schizophrenia but not the positive. At the moment she is under a compulsive obsession to do a sitin protest in the mosque and has been arrested under public disorder act. She will not take medication or attend a doctor or be voluntarily admitted to hospital. I have tried telephoning the last consultant she saw, her g.p.,the mental social worker for our area and none of them can do anything for her as she is 32 years of age and has not asked for help. The gardai have been as helpful as they can and I commend their patience but as things are she may end up in Mountjoy Jail under the Mental Health Act. Is there any other route we can take?

Anonymous - 27/04/2004 16:39

I thought that I would send another update as a follow on to my last posting on the 10/12/2003. Shortly after Christmas my wife was prescribed some anti-depressants by the consultant and this quickly caused a severe upward swing in mood and this medication was stopped soon after. So for the last three months we have not had any medication and have been seeing the consultant regularly and overall things are going well. There are still some psychotic symptoms and at times the voices and the feeling of being monitored is there but the consultant is satisfied that my wife is fully aware of what they are and seems to be in control of them. In some ways it is quite funny that she has developed her own way of “shutting them up” she literally tells them to F#*& Off or else tells them something they do not want to hear and apparently that shuts them up. She is working well and the illness is not interfering with her quite demanding and stressful job. The consultant has indicated that my wife should consider her position in the job as most of the voices and paranoia are focused on the work environment but has warned against taking any sudden life changes or rushing into any major decisions for now. Although the return of the psychotic symptoms does concern me, overall we are very happy and the illness is not impacting us to any great extent since Christmas. I don’t know what will happen in the future but for now I consider us lucky and fingers crossed that things will remain positive.

Anonymous - 05/05/2004 15:52

any known side effects from risparadal? concerned

Anonymous - 05/05/2004 22:28

To writer on the 5/5/04,I just left my computer to ask my Husband if he himself could tell me if he had any side affects from the risperadal that were not visible,and he replied,"just a lot of Muchos". He has been on Risperadal for over two years,and id doing fine T.G. There is also another thing that happens him which is visible,i.e., he sleeps a lot. Hope that this is of some help to you!!!! Anne

Anonymous - 07/12/2005 11:10

My brother was diagnosed with having an acute psychotic disorder on the 15 dec 05. As you can imagine this came as a complete shock to all the family especially when he had to be escorted home by a friend as he was living abroad.He is 27 years of age. Immediately his GP was consulted and was refered to a specialist. He was perscribed medication and improved over time but never returned to the brother I knew. He then decided to go off the medication and in turn had another relapse. This has happened 3 times over the last year and as I write he is confined to his bed of his own accord. Basically the family are at their wits end. We have no idea what he is suffering from? What the recovery periods are if any? Are their support groups available in the south? Who's the best person to evaluate him? What we should do next? If anyone has experienced similar problems i'd appreciate any advice.

Anonymous - 07/12/2005 14:41

Hi, I have contributed to this discussion a couple of times (you will see a few comments about my wife above most recently on the 27th of April 2004). I know you probably don't want to hear that "I know what you are going through" but unfortunatly I do. My wife and I are based in Cork and we experienced great difficulty in getting a diagnosis or even identifying any person who would help us. Eventually we changed GP and recieved a much more sympathethic ear. In addition we changed consultant on the recomendation of our GP. Despite three hospitalisations for psychotic episodes and a number of bouts of depression during the past two years, it was very difficult to get a diagnosis and part of the problem is that these illnesses are very fluid and Doctors are often reluctant to pidgeon hole a person too early. A diagnosis of a psychiatric illness often has impacts on life assurance, car insurance etc. so doctors really need to be 100% certain before committing. It also often takes a long time to find the right medication for a patient. I tried at one stage or another to speak to some of the voluntary organisations but I never felt comfortable with them, that is just a personal opinion and it may suit your situation better. On a positive note we have made some changes to my wife's working arrangements and consequently reduced stress levels, this has for the last six months returned us back to the way things were before. All I can say is the best of luck, it's never easy and I am always asking myself when the next up or down is coming but I promise it really does get better over time.

beth - 06/03/2006 10:04

re: posted 20/2/04. You mentioned your daughted that wont accept help and is staging a sitin. How did it turn out. I have a sister who is exactly the same. We are at our wits end and she has not had a baby. We just dont know what to do anymore as she is 38 so what can we do.

Anonymous - 06/03/2006 13:14

Hi Beth. Sorry to hear about your sister. The stress on the family can be terrible. Our daughter was arrested and had to go to court on two occasions. We went with her. The judge asked her to give an undertaking that she would not go to the mosque and she refused. She was quite obviously mentally unwell and her solicitor under free legal aid undertook for her to stay away. On leaving the courthouse I immediately drove to St. James Accident & Emergency and asked them to admit her. She was sectioned uner the Mental Health Act and stayed there for about three months. Since she was now in the system they got her onto a course and she had a social worker and Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN)and occupational therapist assigned to her.She came off the medication after a few months and we had to get her sectioned again. This time she was on risperdal and everybody said it was like a miracle. She regained her former personality. However since then the locum consultant took her off the medication and she went down hill and now she is back on it again so hopefully she will improve. So the first thing to do is get a gp who is not afraid of psychiatric cases and has experience in this area. Secondly see if there is a Schizophrenia Ireland support group near you as we find this a tremendous help. There is help out there it is just a question of accessing it. Hope things improve for you.

anonymous - 14/04/2006 21:43

reply to posted 06/03/2006:My mother is diagnosed with schizophernia but she is in denial,she has been admitted to hospotal on her own accord she say's she's going in because of depression a few times but still comes off her medication after a few month's.Now she seem's to be getting worse each time she comes off her injections,she live's on her own and their is no community nurses calling to her,is the community nurse only when you go private?i've phoned the hospital and they say she has to go and see them for the medication even though she won't because of her parnoia of the medical system.It seem's to be very hard to find a way to keep her on the medication.

anthony(IQY61045) - 17/04/2007 18:29

I agree that we need to know more about schizophrenia. However I have learned a lot over the last eight years; living with my partner who has the illness has taught me a lot about the illness. I can only think what goes on in Marian brain; it must be very confusing and difficult for her. The medication is needed but I feel patience; love; undertanding and being around the people she loves is very important. Treating Marian as a human being is important also.

sylvia - 10/12/2007 22:23

PLEASE HELP!! my son aged 13 has been told he is having a promodal psychotic episode-i think he is just anxious/depressed.he isnt having any of the delusions/voices etc just a lot of anxiety about getting on a crowded bus/walking past crowds of teenagers at the school /shops etc. he IS withdrawn and suffers low self esteem-was very badly affected when my marriage broke up 2 yrs ago. we are very close, but i wish he had more pals etc. we live in a rural area and he doesn't want to join anything new..just do u tube etc. he is a lovely, lovely tall gentle giant of a kid and its breaking my heart to see him so low and lacking in confidence. i took him to doc, then psych who said she thought possible psychotic episode/how can she tell its not depression? he started risperidone 4 weeks ago and has put on a STONE and will not go back to school because he feels like a freak. where can i go to have him properly assessed...desperate and alone here-dont ask me to call my ex husband-he tells him to snap out of it-and he is looking for attention?? PLEASE SOMEONE_GIVE US HOPE...

hill - 31/07/2008 21:09

does anyone know of anywhere i can get more help and information on schizoaffective disorder? thanks

Patricia(GMC11099) - 01/08/2008 13:04 I hope you can find some information on this site. P.

Patricia(GMC11099) - 01/08/2008 13:06 Also a lot of useful information here.

dee - 03/11/2008 16:56

I Can relate to you in Cork trying to find help for your wife. We had the same problem with my sister-felt like no body wanted to know. The only advice I would give is you have to be forward and keep pushing for help. No matter how hopeless it all seems it all worked out with my sister but it took a lot of hard work to get her where she is today.

dee - 03/11/2008 17:07

There is another good web site for more information on Schizophernia and much more and it is www.Schizophernia it is well worth a look

neon - 22/05/2009 23:38

I am an adopted person that has recently started to search for my birth family's history I found out that my birth mother is schizophrenic and now i am waiting and waiting for the agency to continue with my search.I have 2 young children and am worried that this disorder could be hereditary, any advice?

dee - 16/07/2009 21:25

Well to the women who wants to know if Schizopheenia is herdirity or not the only thing i know is i come from a large family. Three of my family suffers from Schizophrenia and the rest are fine. It seems to me it can affect some people and not others in a family dont know why.

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