Thursday, July 23, 2009

SCHIZOPHRENIA... understanding and dealing with it

It all started 10 years ago(at least that was when we noticed) when my mum had informed my brother and I (we were in secondary school)that we were not going to school that day because she had realized that she was being monitored by ‘certain’ people and now they wanted to get at her through us. Then we noticed she became very withdrawn and would often not go to work. We later got reports from her office that even while at work she would lock herself in the office and would not pick up calls even from her secretary. Her ideas of life and the people around her had become so weird that even when we tried to make her see reason with us it was as futile as trying to drain an ocean by fetching from it with a teaspoon…

Dorothy, Delta.

The lady above has a mental health problem called schizophrenia. About 1% of most populations is said to suffer from this condition. It is a common case seen in most psychiatric institutions. It is a brain disorder which can affect how the individual thinks, feels and acts. The rate of occurrence is same in both sexes.


It is a complex and puzzling disease hence the actual cause is not yet known rather it is said to be the result of multiple interacting factors. Some of the implicated factors include genetics (hereditary), imbalance in certain chemicals in the brain which are responsible for the transfer of messages in the brain, and also various environmental factors which range from events during pregnancy, delivery, stressful events in childhood to stressful events in adolescence and adulthood. Smoking marijuana also puts one at risk of developing the illness.

Some misconceptions about this condition that I would like to clarify with regard to the cause is that schizophrenia is NOT same as ‘split’ personality or ‘multiple’ personality (as I have found out to be the popular assumption of many and this is partly why I wrote this article) neither is it caused by bad parenting or due to weakness in the affected individuals personality.


Symptoms may first appear between the ages of 15 and 35 even though it could occur earlier or later and this has been observed to often appear earlier in males than females. The appearance of symptoms varies from person to person; symptoms may develop slowly over months or years, or may appear very abruptly. In the early phase of the illness they isolate themselves, start neglecting their appearance, say peculiar things, and show a general indifference to life. They may abandon hobbies and activities, and their performance at work or school deteriorates. They may also be noticed to be sleeping poorly.

The person suffering from schizophrenia may experience one or all of the following symptoms:

  • Delusions -- false ideas that are strongly held unto despite contrary evidence. For example, individuals may believe that someone is spying on him or her, or that they are someone famous. They may believe that someone or some people want to harm them.
  • Hallucinations -- imaginary voices which give commands or comment on the thoughts or actions of the individual. It could just also be a disturbing sound or the person may think he or she sees, feels, tastes, or smells something which really doesn't exist.
  • Disordered thinking -- moving from one topic to another, but making no sense. Individuals may even make up their own words or sounds.
  • Oddity of behaviour—the person is withdrawn, mute, may neglect personal hygiene, talk and laugh with self or often assume very unusual postures.

There are variations in the pattern of presentation. The impact on the social functioning of the affected individual varies from minimal to severe. Some people may experience symptoms only a few times in their life while others may need to manage their symptoms through medication and self-care. The worst form of the disorder can make it difficult for a person to tell the difference between real and imagined experiences, to think logically, to express normal emotional responses or to behave normally in social situations.


In the past it was said that only about a third of people with the illness recover fully while another third do not respond at all to treatment. The remaining third are in between, that is, they get better following treatment but they still have residual symptoms which give them away that they are not completely mentally healthy or stable.

In more recent times studies have shown that only less than 20% of those with the illness show no response or significant improvement following treatment. Schizophrenia usually runs a persistent course and like other persistent medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, the medications only control and not cure the illness hence the need to take the medication persistently even when the individual is mentally stable thus preventing a reoccurrence of the illness.

The burden of the illness could be remarkable both on the ones with the illness and their loved ones; family members, colleagues and friends. However the following steps could help

· Educate yourself about the illness.

· Learn to communicate better with those with the illness; keep it brief and straight forward, don’t argue with one who has a strongly held false belief (its part of the illness and it could make him or her irritable and then aggressive).

· Set realistic expectations for them in view of the limitations placed on them by the illness. Help them set goals and assist them achieve it while being patient with their pace. Avoid criticism.

· Encourage independence by creating a structured and supportive environment this will improve self care and self confidence.

· Encourage them to take their medications.

· Find support for yourself and possibly be in contact with medical personnel who can come in handy during the crisis period of the illness.

Just like any other disease, early detection and appropriate intervention on this illness goes a long way to improve the general outcome of treatment and invariably, the quality of life those with the illness will eventually enjoy.


  1. First time in and following this blog anyway.
    Now this Schizophrenia is way too over rated in african countries, cos as stated many people are probably victims without knowing.
    They have this feeling, they are just being spiritually conscious when they exhibit those traits you stated about your mum.

    Or is there a way one can have it without knowing?

  2. Oh, this is nice.

    As a medical student currently doing my psychiatry rotations i can definitely relate and i must say these few wks i've spent in psychiatry so far have been really insightful for me.

  3. Came here from Tobenna's blog. Interesting stuff!

  4. hey
    are you born again?
    or you are just a doctor


  5. its nice to see a mental health professional in nigeria because its not too commonplace. Schizophrenia is a sad disease..nice blog..:)

  6. Got directed here by Tobenna. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. good material and thanks for this elightenment. The beatiful mind helped my understanding of schizophrenia and now this post has improved

  8. @ Tisha, I'm born again psychiatrist (I'm also a pastor)
    Thank you everyone for dropping your comments, really appreciate it