Many people hear of mental illnesses like schizophrenia and instinctually feel fearful or nervous. More often than not, schizophrenia and psychosis is misunderstood or not understood at all. So we want to take this platform to explain what it is and it is not. Also, it is important that individuals diagnosed with a mental illness like schizophrenia reach out to the right professionals and feel comfortable to ask for help. Helpful professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, social workers, and care managers.
So lets start with explaining psychosis and how it differs from schizophrenia. Psychosis is a syndrome or group of symptoms. Psychosis itself isn’t a disease or disorder—it’s usually a sign that something else is wrong. Commonly, psychosis is described as a “break from reality”. Psychosis can be caused by a physical illness, a mental illness, extreme stress, traumatic experiences, or substance abuse.. It is a disruption in your thought process where you experience delusions and/or hallucinations. Delusions are thoughts that are not based in reality however are very true to the person experiences. Hallucinations are when you hear, see, taste, smell, or feel something that is not really occurring.
Schizophrenia on the other hand is a mental illness. Like psychosis, schizophrenia does result in people losing touch with reality and thinking with the presence of hallucinations or delusions and thinking in a disorganized manner. Common delusions people experience I feeling paranoid that someone is after them and also thinking you have special powers. Psychosis is part of schizophrenia however it also includes other symptoms known as positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are things that are “added” like hallucinations or delusions. Negative symptoms are things that taken away like loss of interest or lack of motivation. In addition, individuals with schizophrenia sometimes experience difficulty with concentration and communication.
There are myths about schizophrenia that should be addressed to reduce the stigma that surrounds the diagnosis. Some common myths are :
- Schizophrenia is not caused by bad parenting, childhood trauma, poverty, street drugs or alcohol
- Schizophrenia is not contagious
- Schizophrenia is very different from dissociative disorder (what used to be called split or multiple personality disorder)
- Schizophrenia is no one’s fault
- Having schizophrenia does not automatically mean you are aggressive or a violent.
- People who experience schizophrenia have a higher risk of suicide. In one study, 20-40% of people with schizophrenia attempted suicide and 5% of people with schizophrenia completed suicide, so all talk of suicide should be taken seriously
Both schizophrenia and psychosis are treatable. Being that psychosis can be attributed to things like trauma, a medical condition, substance abuse, or withdrawing from a substance, brain injury, or a mental illness. It is important to be honest with your medical provider about what has been going on to assess how the psychotic symptoms can be treated. Unlike schizophrenia, psychosis can be cured or it can go away. Although there is no cure for schizophrenia you can learn to manage your symptoms. One thing many people do not know is the importance of addressing schizophrenia early. Many people feel scared when they experience symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia and they do not tell people about their symptoms. Many people fear that they will be locked away somewhere or put in a hospital for the rest of their life. However, that is far from the truth, there are many ways to treat schizophrenia in an outpatient setting. If you address schizophrenia early on, then you are more likely to go on living life in a normal manner, and get your symptoms under control.
While schizophrenia looks different for everyone, it always causes changes in your abilities and personality. Below are some common experiences of individuals with schizophrenia
- Hearing voices other people can’t hear
- Seeing things that other people can’t see
- Thoughts take a long time to form, come too fast together, or don’t form at all
- Being convinced that you are being followed
- Feeling immune to any kind of danger; Believing you can save the world
- Feeling like you are floating or that you are not actually in your body
- Suicidal thoughts and ideations
- Withdrawing from people you used to want to be around
- Having trouble remembering things, concentrating and making decisions
If you know someone who is experiencing this or a family member with a loved who may have schizophrenia, share this with them, and tell them that they should reach out to a professional for help!