What is Schizophrenia?

What exactly is schizophrenia and what are the causes?

Schizophrenia is a devastating brain disease whose acute stage always involves a psychotic episode. The name “schizophrenia” means “to split the mind”—a term which vividly captures the idea of a complete rupture between reality and psychotic thinking. Schizophrenia is defined as a common neurobiological disease affecting about 1% of the world’s population, which is roughly 20 million people. The general public tends to confuse schizophrenia with “split personality” or demonizes schizophrenia as psychopathic behavior.

Schizophrenia is linked to a genetic predisposition or vulnerability, as is true of any other medical disease.  The actual cause is still unknown.  Scientists around the world are performing genetic studies and investigating possible causes.

The disease usually occurs in a person’s late teens or early twenties.  During this period, the final “pruning” of neurons, which are brain cells, is completed.  Influenza viruses that occur in the mother during the middle trimester are under scrutiny.  During the 4th, 5th and 6th months of gestation, fetuses undergo a complicated series of developmental processes in their brains, in which neurons hopefully migrate to their correct place, and then others are “pruned” correctly like the branches of a tree.

Scientists are searching for a correlation between these early prenatal infections as environmental insults that years later might impact the final pruning processes of the brain, at maturity.  Difficult births, latent or dormant viruses, retroviruses, exposure to chemicals and any manner of environmental insult are all being investigated by teams of scientists around the world.

Because schizophrenia is such a common and debilitating disease, it can’t be ignored.  I honestly believe that we’ll know a lot more about the disease in the next ten years, thanks to a cooperative worldwide scientific community.  Perhaps they’ll find more than one cause, and subsequently provide reliable and custom treatments.

3 thoughts on “What is Schizophrenia?”

  1. I came across your site via e-mail from NAMI as of 01/26/2011; I’ve been a member of NAMI for 10 years due to the fact, that I have a son who has been diagnosised as schizoaffective. This year he will be turning 30 with alot of success with many of the newer medications, Geodon, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Lithium and Lorazepam. It has been a long road in order to get my son to the level that he is in today. No one would guess that my son has this illness by looking at him nor hearing him speak. He is quite “normal” and that is because of the imbalance being put back in balance with medications, psycotherapy, family support and knowing that he can make it and adherence to treatments. And yes, I had to hospitalize my son, knowing it was for his own good along with many of tears that I shed, but for his own well being. I grew up with a mother who had schizophrenia, who took the early medications and had therapy as well, but I wasn’t told of her illness until I was a teenager and that is when I started to become knowledgeable about the medicatons and treatment. You are right the warning signs are subtle, but upon the most significant sign of the illness emerging, this was during the time he started to experience trauma and he developed anxiety and withdrawing and unkept appearance sleep deprivation coupled with hallucinations. And his depression was becoming more evident, and I always made it a point to discuss with my sons how we felt on a day by day basis. I quickly got with our family psychologist. My sons were raised to have a high self-esteem and taught to develop their god given talents, so his areas were in art and computers, and writing. So we continued to expound on this. I never hid from my sons that my mother was schizophrenic, she even helped raise the oldest one amongst many other family members, who are now grown and abled body adults who are successful in life. My son’s psychologist and psychiatrist have stated “that he is considered to be doing quite well and that is because he has a mother like me”. This is because I had a mother who was smart and loved her family and wanted more out of life and it is a reality that I made it a point to continue to push my son, acknowledging to him that his can make it everyday and have a family and be a contributor to society. My son attended college during the time his was in the early phase of treatment and has attended several vocational programs and has received a number of certificates and certifications in the business trades. And looking to start his own business soon. I work for the government that provides services for persons with numerous disabilities and I see people everyday with this medical condition and they are forging ahead and making a good life for themselves, their children and even for society. I advise anyone with this medical condition and their family not to let this get you down. Remember this is a illness separate from your god given talents and intelligence. I strongly encourage you to stay up with outreach programs, your doctors, and being in compliance with your treatments again emphazing medication, psychotherapy and family and community support. YOU ALL ARE WINNERS IN LIFE AND CAN TRULY ATTAIN A QUALITY OF LIFE! NEVER BE IN DENIAL! THERE ARE TRUE SUCCESS STORIES AMONGST MANY OF YOU!

  2. Dear M&M, Thank you for sharing your personal story about your son’s recovery from schizoaffective disorder. Your letter illustrates how combined therapies, patience, and family support help to provide positive outcomes for our loved ones who suffer from severe mental illnesses. I appreciate your bravery as a mother, and understand your tears as you struggled to help your son get well. Mothers by nature
    are their childrens’ greatest advocates, and unfortunately suffer right along with them. My “NAMI mothers” have become my best friends. They “get it.” I’m so glad you found NAMI, and that you continue to “fight the good fight.” Thank you once again for your wonderful response. Sincerely, Susie Dunham

  3. Hi Susie,
    My daughter Allyson was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia about 9 months ago. She is 21 years old. She was born as a premature infant at 30 weeks. I had severe preeclampsia during my pregnancy with her and it developed during the 6th month. I believe this is what set Allyson up for this illness later in life. She was always behind social and academically. She was late in her development as a baby, toddler and young child and ultimately was diagnosed with a learning disability in the second grade. I never thought that the signs that she displayed as a child growing up should have been red flags to me. However, hindsight, I wish i would have seen them and gotten her help at an earlier age. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know, right? Allyson is in treatment and she is living in transitional housing at a Center where she is being treated with Therapy and a cocktail of meds, the best of which is Clozapine. She is treatment resistant and quite frankly I wish she would have started with Clozapine, because that is the drug that has been the most successful. I truly believe that she can live independently and be a success story. I will never give up on her and will always be there to enable recovery. I believe that you would be a great speaker at our facility. If you do speaking engagements, please let me know. I would love to speak with you about your success as a mother and since I am just beginning this lifelong journey with my daughter it is always nice to know that I am not alone. I pray that this brain disorder will be classified as such and that the shame surrounding this will no longer exist one day. Thank you for letting me share my story.

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