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Schizophrenia: Mystery of the Mind
By Hilary Gibson, Staff Writer
(Page 1 of 3)

For over a century, neuroscience and psychiatry have been trying to understand diseases of the brain, among them the mental disorder called schizophrenia. It has been difficult to define this erratic disease, and even more difficult to medically treat and control it. What is known about schizophrenia is that it is not a “split personality” disorder as is commonly and erroneously believed. People living with schizophrenia, do not become other people or switch in and out of character, as portrayed in the story of Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

 Around 1851, a French scientist was the first to try and give a name to the disease, referring to it as a “folie circulaire,” or cyclical madness, a name based on how the symptoms of this disease came and went in cycles, going through periods of severe attack, and then periods of rest. It wasn’t until 1911 when the actual term “schizophrenia” was used in identifying the disease.

 Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and debilitating brain disease which effects people all over the world, and in America alone, more than 2 million people each year who live with the symptoms of the disease.. Schizophrenia doesn’t discriminate among the sexes, effecting both men and women with about the same amount of frequency, however, it tends to appear earlier in men, usually in their late teens or early twenties, while with women, it usually doesn’t appear until their twenties or early thirties. It has also been observed that the first episodes of schizophrenia are more likely to occur among college-aged students who are away from home for the first time and subject to new stresses. With the prevalence of heavier alcohol and drug consumption among college-aged students, along with sleep patterns becoming radically altered by chemicals, stresses, studying, and working, an episode can be easily triggered during this time of life. People with schizophrenia often have symptoms which are terrifyingly real to them, such as hearing internal voices not heard by others, or believing that other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or are out to get them. These symptoms may leave them frightened and withdrawn, with their speech and behavior becoming so disorganized that they may be difficult to understand. In some extremely rare cases, children as young as five years of age have been diagnosed with the disease, however, it usually does not appear prior to adolescence.

Since the symptoms can be severe and long-lasting, a chronic pattern of schizophrenia often causes a high degree of disability. There are medications and other treatments that can help lesson the severity of these attacks, however, drug therapy must be used with regularity and consistency, working best when taken as prescribed. As odd as it may sound, even if the medicine is working as it should, one of the biggest challenges for caregivers of people who have schizophrenia is making sure they are actually taking their medication when and as they should. Many times they will prematurely discontinue treatment because of unpleasant side effects or for other reasons, which can then lead to an extremely severe attack. Even when treatment is effective, the lost opportunities, the stigma associated with the disease, the residual symptoms, and the side effects of medication may still haunt the person, making it extremely difficult for them to easily assimilate again within mainstream society.

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