Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is characterized by a loss of touch with reality, trouble maintaining daily schedules/motivation/personal hygiene, as well as trouble understanding information they are given to make decisions with. Schizophrenia is a very serious illness that is still not completely understood. We still aren’t 100% certain what causes it, whether it is a combination of genes and environment, or possibly just a chemical imbalance. What we do know for sure is just how devastating it can be when left untreated. Joblessness, homelessness, and even addiction are common among those who have untreated schizophrenia. It is so important that it is caught early and managed as it does not take very long for someone to lose control.

Although each and every case is different, there are some symptoms that are common between cases. Common symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations are anything that no one else can see, hear, smell, or touch that the person with schizophrenia is experiencing. These hallucinations vary from person to person, but the more common type of hallucination is voices. These voices will talk about the person, or warn them about danger, or tell them to do things to themselves/others (that are often times harmful). It can be quite some time before the hallucinations are noticed as the person having them will respond internally to them. Until they either talk about the hallucinations or outwardly respond to them, they are undetectable.
  • Delusions: Delusions are beliefs that are untrue about people/places/events. These delusions can vary greatly, but more common delusions are that someone is hurting them (i.e. through poisoning, controlling their mind/body, plotting against them in some way, etc.) or that they are someone they are not (i.e. someone famous/well-known).
  • Disorganized appearance: Those who are suffering from schizophrenia have a hard time taking care of themselves because they either forget or are focusing more on the things that are going on in their heads. They may have poor personal hygiene, live in less than healthy conditions, or they may even appear to be homeless. They can become very sickly looking if they are refusing to eat because they think they are being poisoned, and they can also look very tired/stressed if they are losing sleep due to their hallucinations/delusions.
  • Catatonic/Movement disorders: If a person is repeating movements and/or making unnecessary movements, they are dealing with a movement disorder. Someone with schizophrenia may also not move or respond to others around them (catatonic behaviour).
  • Unusual/Dysfunctional thoughts and disorganized speech/behaviour: The person cannot get their thoughts to make sense or get them organised before they start to speak. This may present as a very confusing loop of explanation of incomplete thoughts and ideas. They may also make up words/places/people in an attempt to make the connections fit in their heads. This can make it very difficult to tell reality from their hallucinations and delusions.
  • Emotional flatness/apathy: This is a particularly troubling symptom as it can present very much like depression. A flat affect (i.e. no change in expression or tone of voice) is also common with those who are struggling with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is something that can be very difficult to treat. It largely depends on the severity of the case, as well as their support system. Schizophrenia is treated with a combination of medications and therapy, but the most important thing is that they are consistent with their medication and housing. This helps to keep them on track and in check with the symptoms. If your loved one is struggling with schizophrenia, the best thing you can do is be supportive of their recovery and their hard work. It is also important to remember that they will have good and bad days, but it is important to know the difference between a bad day and crisis. That is why it is also important to educate yourself about the illness and ask the questions that you need to. It is also important that you seek help of your own. Being the caregiver of someone who is chronically mentally ill can put a huge strain on your emotionally and mentally. Having a safe place (i.e. a support group or therapist) is great for keeping yourself in check and helping you be the best support that you can be for your loved one.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Other Compulsive Behaviours: Part 1

Dr. Peggy Richter is an internationally known researcher, author, professor, and the Director of the Clinic for OCD & Related Disorders at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Dr. Richter’s research is focused on exploring the genetic and biological basis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). She is a frequent speaker in both the professional and public about her specialty. An innovator in her field, Dr. Richter works tirelessly to help those suffering with OCD and anxiety disorders have hope, through her research to better define the boundaries of OCD and related disorders.

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Intrusive thoughts. Ritualistic behaviours. Repetition. An anxiety ridden individual. What do these 4 things have in common? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

OCD is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by the above mentioned. It can be a debilitating disorder, causing the affected to become so consumed with their “rituals” that they are no longer able to focus on anything else. It may be hand washing, counting, hair pulling, picking. OCD takes many forms and affects each person differently.

There are many different things that can cause OCD. A few of them include:

  • Brain Chemistry
  • Trauma (of any kind can trigger ritualistic behaviour in order to avoid dealing with the trauma)
  • Misinterpretation of their intrusive thoughts (exaggeration of the need to perform rituals)
  • Association of an object or situation with fear (learn to avoid that fear by self-soothing with ritualistic behaviour)

Whatever they cause (s) might be, OCD is an extremely difficult disorder for a bystander to understand. To the average person the behaviours may seem “silly”, “irrational”, and “unnecessary”. The person suffering with OCD is well aware that their rituals are irrational and unnecessary, but they are compelled to perform them anyways. This is extremely distressing for the individual, causing more anxiety.

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OCD is often confused with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). The clear distinction between the two is that those with OCPD do not feel that their actions are irrational. More often than not, they can readily express why their rituals and obsessions are nothing out of the ordinary.

So what are the available management/treatment options for those suffering with OCD? There are several different types of therapies that are available for those suffering. The treatment will depend on the person but common types include:

  • Behavioral therapy: A general exposure to the objects/situations in which the person feels compelled to perform their rituals. Their therapist will help them work through their anxieties, eventually minimizing the behaviours associated with the objects/situations.
  • Medication: Often times antidepressants and other medications are prescribed to help regulate brain chemistry and stabilize mood in the person suffering.

For anyone with a debilitating disorder like OCD, every day can be a continuous struggle. It is important to remember that management of symptoms is possible. It will take a lot of hard work and dedication, but it is possible. Asking for help is the first step towards a brighter future.