Schizophrenia can be devastating, but is also treatable

HOUGHTON – In the United States, according to Mark Miron, mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, are still not accepted by the general public in the same way physical disabilities are, and he thinks that perception needs to change.

Miron is a registered nurse who is assistant professor of nursing at Finlandia University, and he was a psychiatric nurse at Copper Country Mental Health for 12 years.

Schizophrenia can be a particularly devastating illness for those who have it and for their families, Miron said.

The definition for schizophrenia is a formal thought disorder, Miron said.

“What that means is that there is a clear-cut difficulty in thought processing in the individual,” he said.

Schizophrenia is not a single disease, Miron said, and determining the type of the illness a person has is done when a diagnosis is made. The three major categories of schizophrenia are disorganized schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.

“(Paranoid schizophrenia) is the most difficult one,” he said. “It’s also the one that is frequently portrayed in the media as being dangerous,” he said.

Violence by people with paranoid schizophrenia is no more prevalent than in people without the illness, Miron said. “The incidence of violence is no higher than in the general population,” he said.

However, Miron said as is the case with people without mental illness, the chance of violence increases with alcohol and substance abuse.

With schizoaffective disorder, Miron said a person will have what appears as a mood presentation.

“One of the most common affective symptoms is depression,” he said.

Miron said schizophrenia usually appears during a person’s late teens or early 20s, which is one of the facts which make the condition so devastating.

“These individuals normally have a typical life until then,” he said. “Often times they’re very intelligent. They’re having a normal life, then all of a sudden they have this onset (of the illness).”

However, Miron said although it is estimated 1 percent of the United States population has some form of schizophrenia, there is no direct correlation between intelligence and schizophrenia.

“There are roughly 3 million schizophrenics in the U.S., so it’s not difficult to find very intelligent schizophrenics,” he said.

Also, Miron said although it is often first diagnosed in late teens and young adults, schizophrenia has been diagnosed in children as young as 10 years old, and it can show up later in adulthood.

Theories of what causes schizophrenia have changed over the years, Miron said, but now most researchers and doctors are in agreement on one point.

“What’s accepted now is there is a biological or genetic correlation.” he said. “They’re still not entirely clear what causes it.”

Life situations or difficulty managing stress can also bring out a predisposition toward schizophrenia.

“Everybody who has the genetic background for schizophrenia doesn’t get it,” he said.

Miron said schizophrenia makes it difficult for those afflicted with it to communicate and relate to other people, which affects their daily life, including finding a stable home situation.

“There is a high percentage of mental illness, not only schizophrenia, in homeless people,” he said.

Diagnoses of schizophrenia usually comes after it becomes clear there is a serious problem, Miron said.

“Most schizophrenics who are diagnosed, it happens because of an onset of symptoms, which is severe enough that they’re unable to function,” he said. “When they get to that point, typically they’re hospitalized for their own safety.”

However, Miron said a very large number of people with schizophrenia aren’t diagnosed.

“There are a lot of people out there who are schizophrenic and never, ever interact with the health care system,” he said.

That could mean those people who don’t have contact with the health care system are able to function well enough they don’t need treatment, Miron said.

Although suicide can be an issue for people with schizophrenia, Miron said that’s not the biggest problem regarding their well-being.

“The biggest concern is they’re not meeting their physiological needs,” he said. “They’re not eating, they’re not sleeping, they’re not seeking shelter because of the difficulties of their thought processes.”

Miron said a small percentage of people with schizophrenia hear voices, which is known as auditory hallucinations. An even smaller percentage have visual hallucinations.

However, many schizophrenics are certain things are happening to or around them, which really aren’t happening, Miron said.

“The most common symptom of schizophrenia is delusions,” he said.

One of the bigger impediments to initially seeking treatment for many schizophrenics is denial, Miron said, for both the person with the illness and his or her family members.

“The family does not want to believe their son or daughter has schizophrenia,” he said. “They see all this behavior, but they figure out a way to attribute it to something else.”

Treatment for schizophrenia often involves prescription drugs, Miron said.

“Drugs are the most effective way to treat symptoms, such as auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions,” he said. “Research shows the most effective (overall) treatment is a combination of drugs and therapy.”

Miron said the severity of schizophrenia in an individual can fluctuate based on stresses in that person’s life and how diligently the person accepts treatment.

“The vast majority of schizophrenics can be very successfully treated,” he said.

Miron said having schizophrenia does not necessarily mean a life sentence of incapacity. Many people with schizophrenia who seek treatment are able to work and function well on a daily basis.

“There’s some really highly-functioning schizophrenics in this community,” he said.