About 1% of the population of most countries has schizophrenia although symptoms may differ from culture to culture. Symptoms vary widely between people who have schizophrenia. They may be mild or severe. Some people experience one episode of the illness and having received treatment they do not relapse. Others have more frequent episodes but remain well for a lot of the time. Still others remain unwell and require a high level of ongoing support and treatment.
Medication is usually a central part of the treatment. This can be very effective although side effects can be problematic. Counselling, social support, assistance with employment, accommodation, finances and education are also important in assisting the person and their family to cope with the illness.
These are false personal beliefs that are not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and are not explained by a person’s usual cultural concepts (US National Institute of Mental Health).
These refer to a person’s perception of something that does not really exist in their environment. The most common form of hallucination is auditory, e.g. when a person ‘hears’ voices.
A person may think very quickly or in bizarre or confused ways, making it difficult for others to follow their train of thought.
'Affect' means feelings or emotions, so a person is often unresponsive or finds it difficult to feel appropriate emotions at an appropriate time.
A person has difficulty with mental processes like memory or concentration.
A person will not want to interact with others and spends a lot of time alone.
A person loses their 'drive' to do things, including basic self-care.
The causes of schizophrenia are not yet clearly understood although a combination of factors is seen as the most likely. These include:
Antipsychotic medication is usually prescribed for those with schizophrenia. This medication helps to control the symptoms, particularly the delusions or hallucinations that a person may experience. There are two main kinds of medication that are commonly prescribed. They are known as the ‘typicals’ and the ‘atypicals.’ The ‘typicals’ refer to the medications that have been widely used over many years, while the‘atypicals’ refer to the newer drugs. Although the newer drugs often produce fewer side effects some people respond better to the older medications.
Each person is different and medication options need to be explored with a psychiatrist on an individual basis.
Rehabilitation services can assist the person to find and maintain accommodation, education, social skills, contacts and employment.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be useful in helping the person learn ways of managing their schizophrenia. Supportive or insight-oriented counselling may also be beneficial.
Hospitalisation may be necessary at times if the person becomes unwell or their medication needs to be changed or stabilised.
Support groups offer people with schizophrenia and their families the opportunity to meet people in a similar situation, share experiences, and find support, education and reassurance.
Psycho-education is useful in helping to understand the illness and reduce stigma.
Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who have gone on to train further and specialise in the treatment of mental illness. They can prescribe medication. Psychologists are trained in human behaviour and have studied the brain, memory, learning and human development. They provide various services including assessment, psychological testing and various types of psychotherapy and/or counselling.
A Medicare rebate is now available for up to 12 sessions per calendar year with a registered psychologist who has a Medicare Provider Number. To obtain the rebate you must be referred by an appropriate medical practitioner, i.e. a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician. The practitioner will ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements and develop a management plan for your condition. The cost and rebate from Medicare will vary depending on the consultation length and fee charged. If the psychologist bulk bills there will be no extra cost.
For further information about the rebate or to locate a psychologist in your area contact the Australian Psychological Society: http://www.psychology.org.au/ Tel: 1800 333 497