Schizophrenia is probably the best-known mental disorder, though people often mistakenly confuse it with multiple personality disorder. Someone with multiple personality disorder has two or more personalities that surface; she is still in touch with reality and able to function. Someone with schizophrenia, on the other hand, often loses touch with reality and is unable to carry out many daily activities. Schizophrenia is rather difficult to define accurately as it varies in form and sufferers do not have the exact same symptoms. Even so, mental health professionals have come up with a list of common symptoms of schizophrenia, the most prevalent of which are hallucinations and delusions.
Hallucinations and Delusions
Delusions are false, and often outlandish, ideas that a person believes to be true. These ideas can be anything the imagination can conjure up, from space aliens living in the bathroom sink to rat poison in their Chap-Stick. Oftentimes, schizophrenics will have paranoid delusions in which they believe someone or an agency such as the government is plotting against them. They will think their phones are bugged, people are following them, and their lives are in danger. Sometimes they will believe they are another person, often someone well known such as Jesus, the president, or a celebrity.
You must understand that as silly as this may seem to you, delusions are as real as the sun to the schizophrenic, and they are just as terrifying as if they were really happening. For instance, one man was hospitalized because he was convinced that the police were after him. He ran from window to window in absolute terror, because he was locked in and was certain that people walking on the hospital grounds were police who were coming to get him. The fact that this wasn't true made no difference to the man; in fact, he understood that other people thought he was crazy, but he believed his worries were true nonetheless.
Hallucinations are false or distorted sensory perceptions that a person believes to be real. These hallucinations can be incredibly vivid and are usually tied to the individual's delusional beliefs. For example, if a woman holds a delusion that she is being persecuted, she may experience terrifying hallucinations in which she is chased, imprisoned, or injured by an angry mob of people.
Movies and television shows often portray a schizophrenic as being violent toward others. While violence is a possibility, schizophrenics are more likely to turn the violence toward themselves. Suicide attempts are unfortunately common with schizophrenics.
While schizophrenics see things that aren't there or feel things crawling on their skin, the most common hallucinations those with schizophrenia suffer are auditory; they hear voices. The voices are inside the person's head, but the sufferer believes it is just as real as if someone were standing next to him speaking, because his experience is exactly the same as if someone really were. There could be just one voice or several. The voice may give the sufferer orders or insult him or her. Two or more voices could hold a conversation that completely disregards the sufferer altogether. Regardless of what the voices say, the sufferer believes it is real and often will take the advice or orders of the voices.
Other symptoms of schizophrenia include disorganized speech and thought and inappropriate and disorganized behavior. The disorganization of thought manifests itself in speech. A schizophrenic may suddenly begin rhyming or switch from one illogical idea to another without any apparent connection. The sufferer's speech can be scattered and incoherent, unable to be understood. Disorganized behavior can consist of anything from being unable to dress oneself to laughing uncontrollably at a funeral. Disorganized behavior is inappropriate for the occasion or can result in the sufferer's inability to complete an everyday, simple task.
The symptoms already discussed are considered “positive” by psychologists. This isn't to be confused with “good.” Positive refers to active symptoms that are added to a person's normal behavior; they are symptoms that healthy people do not display. Negative refers to those symptoms that show a lack in some area — ambition, thought, feeling, behavior, etc. Such symptoms include emotional flatness (when a person does not show any emotion whatsoever), an extreme lack of motivation, withdrawal from society, and impoverished thought and speech.
Schizophrenics may also show changes in emotion. They may suffer extreme mood swings rather abruptly or exaggerate a normal feeling, such as laughing too loudly and too long at a joke. They may also become apathetic toward people they had always been close to.
There are so many symptoms that it wouldn't be possible to list them all here. This is why it is difficult to diagnose schizophrenia. Just as there are no two snowflakes alike, there are no two cases of schizophrenia exactly alike. Mental health professionals must take this very seriously, as it can be a very terrifying and detrimental mental disorder. Fortunately, treatment for schizophrenia has improved over the years. People can now sometimes partially or completely recover from a schizophrenic episode, although others will remain disabled by their condition.