Uncontrolled disease: Expert warns of devastating consequences

Published Jul 10, 2024


Living with schizophrenia can feel like living in a world where reality constantly shifts. Imagine hearing voices that others don’t hear, or having thoughts that feel like they’re not your own. It can be confusing and scary.

People with schizophrenia often struggle to trust what they see and hear, which can make everyday life challenging. Relationships can be strained because others may not understand their behaviours or beliefs.

Managing daily tasks like work or school can be tough due to trouble concentrating or feeling withdrawn.

Treatment like medication and therapy can help control symptoms, but finding the right treatment plan can take time and patience. Support from loved ones is crucial, but stigma and misunderstandings about schizophrenia can make it hard to get the help needed.

Living with schizophrenia means learning to navigate a world where the line between reality and imagination can blur. It requires resilience, understanding, and support to cope with symptoms and live a meaningful life despite the difficulties.

Schizophrenia can be a frightening experience, says Dr Bianca Brider from Janssen South Africa Medical Affairs.

One of the most disempowering aspects of it is the difficulty patients face in distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined: “Did I really hear that? Did I really see that? Is this happening?”

This condition is relatively rare, affecting about 1 in every 300 people worldwide, totalling approximately 24 million individuals. It typically begins in late adolescence or early twenties, often earlier in men than in women.

The main symptom of schizophrenia is the blending of reality with the patient's internal thoughts and experiences. Picture: Elīna Arāja /Pexels

Brider emphasises the daunting nature of schizophrenia for patients who are already navigating the challenges of self-discovery and future planning.

The main symptom of schizophrenia is the blending of reality with the patient’s internal thoughts and experiences.

Other symptoms may include low motivation leading to destructive behaviours, difficulty in forming social connections, and disorganised thinking, which can manifest as confused or fragmented speech and inappropriate emotional responses.

Patients may also show extreme agitation or a slowing down of movements.

While about a third of individuals with schizophrenia experience periods of complete symptom relief, others may see symptoms worsen gradually or experience a cycle of ups and downs throughout their lives.

This variability underscores the importance of tailored treatment plans and ongoing support to help patients manage their condition and lead fulfilling lives.

Misconceptions surrounding this disease

Brider explains that society’s often misguided views of schizophrenia stem largely from popular media. It’s crucial to distinguish schizophrenia from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), commonly known as “split personality”.

In schizophrenia, the “split” isn’t between multiple personalities but rather between what’s real and what’s imagined in the patient’s mind.

Unfortunately, media portrayals often depict people with schizophrenia as unpredictable and violent, which is true for only a minority.

These stereotypes contribute to stigmatisation, making individuals with schizophrenia hesitant to seek help and leading to social withdrawal, which can worsen their symptoms.

There is also a misconception that schizophrenia is untreatable and that patients can’t hold jobs or live independently.

While schizophrenia isn’t curable, significant progress in medical treatments allows most patients to lead fulfilling lives, pursue careers, and enjoy relationships without needing long-term hospitalisation.

Understanding and support can make a world of difference in their journey toward wellness and acceptance in society.

Causes of schizophrenia

Brider explains that schizophrenia doesn’t have a single cause pinpointed by research. Instead, it’s believed to result from a combination of genetic factors and various environmental influences.

Factors like childhood trauma or frequent cannabis use can impact the onset and progression of schizophrenia.

Studies have also indicated that psychoactive substances such as cocaine, LSD, or amphetamines may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia or similar psychotic illnesses.

It’s uncertain whether these drugs directly trigger schizophrenia in susceptible individuals or if those with schizophrenia are more likely to use these substances.

However, it’s clear that recreational drug use can lead to relapses or hinder recovery in individuals who have experienced psychosis or schizophrenia episodes before.

Living with schizophrenia

“If there’s one point that I can’t stress enough,” says Brider, “It’s that uncontrolled disease can, and will, ruin lives. Whether it’s a disease of the body, such as cancer, or a disease of the mind, such as schizophrenia, being silent can have devastating consequences.

“There is both medical and emotional support out there. Reach out for help. Make your voice heard; it’s crucial for you and those that are still to walk in your footsteps.”

When it comes to medication, there are both oral and injectable options available, depending upon the recommendations made by the patient’s medical advisers.

A recovery-oriented approach that gives people agency in their treatment decisions, is essential for people with schizophrenia, and for their families and/or caregivers.

Brider adds, “Support groups, are utterly crucial, in that they remind patients that they are not alone on this journey.”