Raising Awareness About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is now manageable, thanks to current medical progress

The Hollywood and other popular media have arguably turned schizophrenia into one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented of all mental conditions. The complexity of schizophrenia, and the fact that its nature opens itself to dramatic interpretations, may help explain why there are so many misconceptions around the disease.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects around 1 in every 100 people.[1] The first thing we must know is that schizophrenia does not mean “split personality” or “multiple personalities”. While schizophrenia may present some overlapping symptoms with this condition – formally known as dissociative identity disorder (DID) – they shouldn’t be confused.[2] Another myth that needs to be dispelled, is that individuals living with schizophrenia are dangerous, whereas they are no more dangerous or violent than other people in the general population.[3]

We spoke to the Medical Affairs Director of Janssen South Africa, Moustafa Kamel, to help clarify our understanding:

“Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are two different mental health conditions, but they can share some similarities. Both conditions can cause changes in mood, thinking, and behaviour. However, the specific symptoms of each condition are different.[4]

“Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes extreme mood swings, from mania to depression. Mania is a period of abnormally elevated mood, energy, and activity. Depression is a period of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. People with bipolar disorder may experience both mania and depression, or they may experience only one or the other. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that causes people to lose touch with reality. People with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations, which are seeing or hearing things that are not there, or delusions, which are false beliefs. They may also have difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, and making decisions.[5]

“While bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are different conditions, they can sometimes be confused with each other. This is because some of the symptoms of the two conditions overlap. For example, people with both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may experience hallucinations and delusions. However, there are also some key differences between the two conditions. For example, people with bipolar disorder typically experience changes in mood, while people with schizophrenia typically do not.”

“There’s a genetic factor in this,” Kamel explains, “but we can’t exclude environmental influences – such as a stressful home environment and lifestyle factors such as consumption of cannabis – which can aggravate and trigger those genetic tendencies, thus contributing to the occurrence, and magnitude, of the disease.1

The degree of intensity of the disease, and types of symptoms experienced, differs from one patient to the next, and this makes diagnosis, treatment, and caregiving quite a complex process. “However,” Kamel continues, “with a careful approach, most symptoms of schizophrenia will greatly diminish, and the likelihood of a recurrence can be minimised with adequate and compliant treatment regimens.1

With the earlier mentioned inaccurate portrayal of this condition, there is a stigma associated with it, like many other mental conditions.

Says Charlene Sunkel, a person with lived experience of schizophrenia and Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Global Mental Health Peer Network: “Schizophrenia is probably one of the most misunderstood of mental health conditions and the most stigmatised and discriminated against – to the detriment of a person’s recovery journey. I live with schizophrenia, I am a person first, I am not defined by my diagnosis, and I am able to have mental health and wellbeing despite my diagnosis. The change must start with everyone: persons living with schizophrenia must know that they are worthy of life, families to be supported to enable them to support their loved ones, communities to create a safe and empathic society, and governments and service providers to create services and support that is dignified, focused on recovery not doom, and that respects and protects human rights.”

Kamel assures us that research is leading to innovative and safer treatments: “Experts are also unravelling the causes of the disease by studying genetics, conducting behavioural research, and using advanced imaging to look at the brain’s structure and function. These approaches hold the promise of new, and more effective, therapies.”

Finally, despite being a chronic condition with no cure, per se, it’s far from a hopeless scenario. And more recently developed, long-acting antipsychotics are now allowing patients to take their medications less frequently – yet with more sustained and reliable results.

For more information, visit: https://www.janssenwithme.co.za/en-za/schizophrenia24x7/about


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