What Is it?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that impacts how a person views reality. A person with schizophrenia might have hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking/behaviour. It does not look the same for everyone. It can make it difficult to think clearly and logically. Schizophrenia is long-lasting.
Typically, schizophrenia begins in men in their late teens to early 20s and in the late 20s to early 30s in women. It is not commonly seen in someone below 12 or above 40.
Myths About Schizophrenia
FACT – People with schizophrenia are not typically dangerous.
This is a very common myth. It has been perpetuated by misinformation and incorrect portrayals of people with schizophrenia in society. People with schizophrenia are more likely to harm themselves than someone else. Studies have shown people with schizophrenia are less likely to be violent than people with other mental illnesses. People with schizophrenia are also more commonly the victims of violence rather than the perpetrator.
FACT – Schizophrenia is not caused by bad parenting.
This is another common myth going back as far as the 1940s. Some theorists thought it was cold parenting by mothers that caused schizophrenia. Others believed it was because of confusing communication. All of these theories are incorrect.
FACT – “Split” or different personalities are not a part of schizophrenia
The tricky part of this myth is schizophrenia means split mind, but this refers to the split from reality a person may experience with schizophrenia. Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is more like what we would think of with split personalities. A person with DID will have a disconnection in their identity, memories, and thoughts.
FACT – Having a family member with schizophrenia increases a person’s risk of getting it.
A change in character slowly occurs over time; it does not just shift instantly. The signs of schizophrenia typically develop slowly. In addition, a person with schizophrenia will not flip in an instant. Like anyone (with or without a mental illness), there are usually signs a person is becoming upset, like body language, tone of voice, etc.
FACT – There is hope and help for people with schizophrenia.
There are many different types of treatment for people with schizophrenia. A combination of treatments can help a person manage their symptoms. There are medications, social interventions, therapy, and hospitalization. Some people can improve significantly or recover if they receive treatment.
FACT – If someone has received treatment, they might be able to keep a job. It depends on the person.
Treatment can be successful, and people can improve. They can hold jobs and live in the community. Working can help a person recover, too. It all depends on the person. Some people are not able to work and have to go on disability. That is okay, too!
Causes of Schizophrenia
- Drug use
- There are some studies that suggest that using mind-altering drugs in teen/young adulthood can increase a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia. The younger a person uses drugs or the more frequent the person uses drugs, the higher the risk of developing schizophrenia.
- Brain chemistry
- Certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to schizophrenia. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters and they are how nerves (brain cells) communicate with each other.
- Just like we inherit other traits from our parents, we can also inherit traits about our mental health. Having a close family member (sibling or parent) with schizophrenia makes a person 6 times more likely to develop schizophrenia.
- Pregnancy complications
- People with schizophrenia are more likely to have had complications during or after their birth. This might impact the brain development of the baby.
- A person’s environment might influence their mental health. Exposure to viruses and malnutrition before the person was born can increase their chance of developing schizophrenia.
- Toxic stress/stressful life events can trigger the development of schizophrenia in someone who is at risk for getting schizophrenia.
What Does it Look Like?
There are three main categories of symptoms.
Positive (psychotic) Symptoms
Positive symptoms are symptoms that are not supposed to be there. They are additions to a person’s experience.
- Hallucinations: people hear, smell, and see things that are not supposed to be there.
- Auditory hallucinations: hearing things that are not there, like voices.
- Olfactory hallucinations: smelling things that are not there.
- Visual hallucinations: seeing things that are not there.
- Tactile hallucinations: feeling (movement or sensations) things that are not there
- Delusions: beliefs the person has which are not based in reality. These make it difficult to concentrate or cause the person to feel confused
- Persecutory delusions: when a person believes someone (individual, group, or organization) is mistreating them or out to get them
- Erotomanic delusions: when a person believes someone is in love with them. This could be someone they have never met before, such as a celebrity or someone in a position of power.
- Somatic delusions: when a person believes they are sick or their body has a strange condition despite contradictory evidence.
- Grandiose delusions: when a person believes they have superior abilities and qualities.
Negative symptoms are symptoms that are a lack of ability to function normally. It is not the person being negative, but a lack of characteristics that should be there.
- Lack of hygiene
- Lack of emotion
- Lack of interest
- Withdrawing or isolating
- Reduced feeling of pleasure
- Communication is lacking content
Cognitive (Thinking) Symptoms
These symptoms can be problems with attention and communication. Disorganized thinking makes it difficult to concentrate.
- Lack of communication skills
- Words may seem jumbled
- Difficulty making coherent conversation
- Ritualistic movements or rhythmic gestures
- Difficulty making sense of the world around them
- Actions do not make sense
Symptoms in Teens
Symptoms show up a little differently in teens. It can be difficult to notice.
Some additional symptoms could include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Doing poorly (or not as well) in school
- Difficulty sleeping
- Depressed mood or moodiness
- Low motivation
Please note, these symptoms can be caused by other things as well, like using marijuana, acid/LSD, or methamphetamines.
Teens are less likely to have delusions and more likely to have visual hallucinations.
What to Do if You Feel Like You Are Struggling With Schizophrenia?
Thinking about death and mortality is natural, but contemplating ending your life is different. Thinking about killing yourself is scary and overwhelming. It can feel like there is no help or hope, but there is help. There is hope.
So, what do you do if you are thinking about killing yourself?
First, identify that you are not doing well. It is not an easy thing to admit. Just remember, we cannot be tiptop all the time. It is okay not to be okay. It is about seeking help.
Second, talk to someone. Seek help from someone you trust whether a loved one, doctor or mental health professional. You deserve to feel better. It is important to take care of yourself and feel better. Telling someone you are thinking about killing yourself can be very difficult, but it is important. There is the misconception of the “strong silent type,” but reaching out takes great strength. You deserve help and you deserve to feel better.
For some people, saying the words out loud can be very difficult. It makes it feel more real. If you are having a hard time saying the words out loud, write it down and give the note or letter to the person you trust. This way you will still be able to communicate to the person how you are doing without having to say it out loud.
Third, practice self-care. Make healthy choices to support your mental health. Take some time for yourself to feel better, to unwind, and to take care of yourself.
In addition to seeking professional help, there are many things you can do to help support your mental health. Check under the tips for wellness or the wellness sessions for ideas about how to take care of yourself.
What Do You Do About a Disclosure About Schizophrenia?
When a loved one tells you that they are struggling, it can be terrifying, and it can be hard to know what to do/say. It is easy to become caught up in emotions. Many people fear saying the wrong thing. We often want to try to fix our loved one’s problems or counsel them, but that is not your job. Your main job is to connect your loved one to help.
The following are some guidelines of what to do when your loved one tells you they are struggling and how to handle those difficult conversations. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a helping professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider.
The person is telling you something scary and personal to them. This is terrifying for both of you. Take a moment to gather yourself and take a deep breath. Remember… this is about them and their experience. When we care about someone and they tell us about their struggles, we sometimes react with what seems like anger. This is often an outward display of fear which comes across as anger. This can make it difficult for the person to open up to you.
Take a moment to recognize your own biases or judgements about mental health issues. You are entitled to your opinion, but remember this conversation is about your loved one. It is about their emotions, experiences, and perception. It is all valid and real for them. If you are going to have the conversation, place your judgements or preconceived notions aside to allow for understanding and compassion.
Validate, Encourage, Empower, Refer. (This is not counselling the person. It is connecting them with help.)
Give the person the time and consideration you would like if you were struggling. Be the person you would like to help you in this situation. Give them your full attention. They deserve it. Listening will also help you know what the person is trying to tell you. While you are listening, be understanding and compassionate. Give them the space to talk.
Facing mental health concerns can be very challenging and scary, but your loved one needs help. Without help, the problems can escalate.
Talking to a loved one who is struggling is challenging. Talk to someone about it to help cope with the stress of the situation. Practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. For self-care ideas, visit the self-care section here.
Sometimes, people are not ready to talk to you. That is okay. It is their choice. Simply let them know you are there to talk if they need someone and give them resources.
How to Talk to Someone About Their Mental Health?
If you have a feeling something is going on, have a conversation with the person if you feel comfortable talking to them. (If you do not feel comfortable, that is okay. You just need to tell someone who will have the conversation with them and connect them with help.)
The following are some guidelines as to what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal or not doing well. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a counsellor, doctor, or another professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider.
Before You Have the Conversation:
- Make sure you have time for it
- You are in a place the person will feel comfortable talking to you
- Approach the situation with compassion
- Make sure you are willing to listen
- Remember you can initiate the conversation and let them know you are there, but it may take some time before they talk to you.
- Take notice. If you feel like something is going on with someone, there likely is something. Trust that gut instinct.
- Talk to them. Open the conversation in a nonjudgemental and compassionate way. Begin the conversation by stating a change you have noticed. Use “I” statements so it does not feel like you are accusing them.
- Example: “Hey, I have noticed you have been cancelling plans lately. How are you doing?” or “I heard you putting yourself down in class. What’s been going on?”
- Remember VEER Validate, Encourage, Empower, Refer. (This is not counselling the person. It is connecting them with help).
- Do not ignore it. Having someone disclose mental health issues can be very challenging. Because it is scary, we sometimes want to ignore it, but you have a duty to report to connect the youth to help.
- Get help for you, too. Talking to a youth who is struggling is challenging. Talk to someone about it to help cope with the stress of the situation. Practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. For self-care ideas, visit the self-care section here.
The person may not be ready to talk to you, and that is okay. Let them know you are there to talk whenever they are ready. Offer them helplines for support.
- Listen without judgement.
- This can be tricky, but it is important. Oftentimes, when we are scared, we react with anger or irritability. Yes, this is scary, but your child needs your support right now.
- Talk to a professional yourself.
- This can be very helpful. A counselor can help you work through any emotions you may have and give you tools to help your child/youth.
- Try to stay connected with your child/youth
- Let them know you are there to talk. Yes, teenagers are trying to assert their independence, but maintaining a connection with them can help them combat the challenges they face.
- Check in with your child/youth
- Talking about mental health and suicide can be challenging and scary, but after the initial conversation with your child about their mental state, it does not immediately change. Checking in with them will let them know you care and help you know how they are doing.
- Work to decrease the stigma around mental health by talking openly
- There are many preconceived notions about mental health. Educate yourself so you can better understand what your child is going through.
- Model positive coping skills
- Children/youth learn a lot by observing. Show them what positive coping skills look like through your actions. If you need help with this, seek help.
- Facilitate/encourage your child’s connection to mental health resources and positive relationships
- Help them book appointments if they need help. Drive them to their appointments if they need a ride to ensure they go. Maintain open communication with your child’s counsellor.
- Do not shrug off your child’s mental health/status as moody youth/teenager behaviour
- Yes, teenagers and youths can be moody. Anyone can. If you notice a shift in your child that troubles you, check-in with them and see what is going on.
- Have fun!
- This will help facilitate a connection with your child and help them to cope with stress positively
Things to Avoid
- Making jokes about suicide or mental health
- Judging the person
- This could be something as simple as asking “Why” because it can be viewed as judgement. While it may seem like an innocent question, it is laced with judgement. Think of a time when someone has asked “Why did you do that?” It automatically makes us defensive. It feels like they are judging us. The same goes for suicide. The person needs compassion and understanding to help them think of other ways to cope with what they are going through. When someone is struggling, they often feel down on themself. Therefore, empathy and compassion are so important. There is also the chance the person does not know the exact reason why they are suicidal due to the cumulative nature of suicide.
- Leaving them alone if they are a danger to themself.
- If a person is at a high risk of killing themself, do not leave them alone. Make sure they are connected with help and are safe.
- Making assumptions about a person’s mental health without talking to them.
- Threatening or blaming the person
- Ignoring the person’s mental health problems
- Counseling your loved one
- Your loved one needs to be connected with professional help who is separate from family or friends
- Making the person’s mental health issues about you
- If you are struggling because of someone’s mental health, seek help for yourself. When you are helping the person, it is about them and getting them help.
- Comparing people’s mental health journeys
- In our society, there is sometimes a compulsion to compare. We compare everything from social media to lifestyle to clothing. Mental health should not be compared. Do not get stuck in the “Anything you can do, I can do better” trap. Every person’s story or experience is valid.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. Remember… it is okay not to be okay. It is important to reach out for help when you need it. If the person cannot keep themselves safe, do not leave them alone.
Tips to encourage wellness:
- Talk to someone
- Connect with resources, helplines, counselor, doctor, etc.
- Practice positive coping skills
- Going for a walk
- Listening to music
- Practicing mindfulness or gratitude
- Connecting with nature
- Playing with a pet
- Playing a game
- Watching a movie
In addition to seeking professional help, these activities can help support mental wellness. Check the wellness sessions for ideas.
Causes – Schizophrenia – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
If you would like to speak to someone about mental health issues, the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7, offering information and referrals on any aspect of mental health.