"In my senior year of high school, I began to experience personality
changes. I did not realize the significance of the changes at the time, and I
think others denied them, but looking back I can see that they were the earliest
signs of illness. I became increasingly withdrawn and sullen. I felt alienated
and lonely and hated everyone. I felt as if there were a huge gap between me
and the rest of the world; everybody seemed so distant from me." This excerpt
describes part of Esse Leete 20-year battle with schizophrenia. She committed
herself to leading the fullest life her disease will allow and to educating
others about mental illness. Schizophrenia is a very serious disease, but
through defining schizophrenia and getting the patient help and treatment a
schizophrenic can lead a full life like any other person.
Schizophrenia is defined as any of a group of psychotic reactions
characterized by withdrawal from reality with highly variable affective,
behavioral and intellectual disturbances by the American Heritage Dictionary.
No definition of schizophrenia can adequately describe all people with this
illness. Schizophrenia is an extremely complex mental illness. It is clear
that schizophrenia is a disease which makes it difficult for the person with the
illness to decide what is real and what is not (Swados 5). It is also clear
that this brain disease affects normal, intelligent people in all walks of life.
There are six concrete phrases that describe schizophrenia: it is a real
disease, has concrete and specific symptoms, is different from other mental
illnesses, is the result of flaws brain biochemistry, may be treated by specific
antipsychotic drugs, and is almost always treatable.
Scientist are unsure of the causes of schizophrenia, although research
is progressing rapidly. Scientist are almost certain that schizophrenia has
more than one cause. One cause could be a chemical imbalance. An imbalance of
the brain\'s chemical system has long been suspected as the main cause of the
illness (Youth 2). A second cause could be stress. Most authorities disagree
that severe stress can cause the illness. Stress can however, worsen the
symptoms when the illness is already present. A third cause could possibly be
genetic predisposition. Genetic transmission has yet to be proven even though
schizophrenia tends to run is some families(Youth 3). For example,
schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the general population but children with one
schizophrenic parent have a 10% chance of developing the illness. When both
parents have schizophrenia the percentage of risk rises to approximately 40%
(Youth 3). Scientists today think that in some types of schizophrenia, the
illness may ride along not only on one common gene, but on various rare genes or
a combination of fairly common genes (Youth 3). While the causes are unclear,
schizophrenia definitely is: not caused by childhood diseases, poverty,
domineering mothers and/or passive fathers, or guilt, failure or misbehavior.
Just like an other illness, schizophrenia has signs or symptoms. The
symptoms are not identical for each person who has the illness. Approximately
one-third of those affected may have only one episode of schizophrenia in his
lifetime while another one-third may have recurring or continual episodes but
lead relatively normal lives in between. A final one-third have symptoms for a
lifetime (Youth 3). Schizophrenia always involves deterioration and changes
from a previous level of functioning. Family members and friends often notice
that the person is "not the same". The person with schizophrenia has difficulty
in separating what is real from what is unreal. As the person becomes more
stressed by the demands of day to day living, the person may withdraw and the
symptoms become more pronounced (Video). Deterioration is noticeable in ares
such as: work or academic achievement , how one relates to others, and personal
care and hygiene (Video). Symptoms of schizophrenia are noticed in several
different areas. The first area is personality changes. Personality changes
are a key to recognizing schizophrenia. At first, the changes may be subtle,
minor and go unnoticed (Video). As they worsen they become obvious to family
members, friends and co-workers. There is a loss of feeling or emotions, a lack
of interest and motivation (Youth 5). A normally outgoing person becomes
withdrawn, quiet, moody, or inappropriate. When told a sad story, the person
may laugh; a joke may cause him/her to cry; or he/she may be unable to show any
emotion at all (Youth 5).
Another sign is thought change. Thought changes are one of the most
profound changes. These changes in thought are the barrier to clear thinking
and normal reasonableness (Youth 6). Thoughts may be slow in forming, or come
extra fast or not at all. The person may