Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Is Schizophrenia?

Not one disease but a cluster of brain disorders, schizophrenia (schiz-o-phre-ni-a) distorts the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of its victims. The term schizophrenia comes from two Greek words that mean "split" and "mind." When Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler introduced the term in 1911, he meant splitting or fragmenting of the thinking process.

Schizophrenics should not be confused with victims of multiple, or split, personalities. The American Psychiatric Association also distinguishes schizophrenia from schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders. Though these conditions may involve traits and behaviour (such as indifference to others, lack of interest in friends, excessive anxieties, and odd beliefs) that make relationships difficult, they are not marked by the delusions, hallucinations, and incoherence of the diagnosed schizophrenic. As evidence of its devastating effect on personality, schizophrenia used to be called dementia praecox, meaning "premature dementia."

Schizophrenics may have auditory hallucinations - hearing voices that urge them to perform acts that are often irrational. Schizophrenics may suffer delusions, such as believing that telephones are trying to rob their brains or that they are the rightful heirs to the throne of Great Britain. They may laugh at funerals and cry when others laugh. Some withdraw from the world, crouched in a corner, silent and unseeing.

Some schizophrenics have difficulty handling even the simplest of jobs, and they may be incapable of meaningful speech. They lose motivation and emotion and are unable to function in society at all. The only concentration they can apply is to whatever delusion obsesses them.

Schizophrenia can shatter not only the lives of its victims, but the lives of their immediate families. In the industrialized world, schizophrenia accounts for 50 percent of admissions to psychiatric hospitals.

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