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An Introduction to Schizophrenia Spectrum & Other Psychotic Disorders

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Solitudeimage by Gabriel Legaré (lic)

Nature of Schizophrenia

A Brain Disease

Schizophrenia is a brain disease that causes problems with normal brain functioning. People with this condition show odd and often highly irrational or disorganized behavior. The brain is where thinking, feeling and understanding of the world takes place). A brain disease, like schizophrenia, changes that thinking, feeling, and understanding. Symptoms include difficulty:

  • thinking clearly
  • interacting with others
  • completing tasks
  • expressing emotions

Even simple tasks like personal hygiene (bathing, eating, dressing, etc.) can become too difficult and are stopped. The disease can impact every aspect of the person's work, family, and social life. Family members frequently become distressed and overwhelmed by the challenges of providing care. They also often have trouble coming to terms with the changing of their loved one into a person with a serious life-long illness.

Psychosis and the loss of reality

A key feature of schizophrenia is psychosis. This happens when a person loses the ability to tell the difference between real and 'imagined' experiences. They lose touch with reality. People with schizophrenia commonly experience:

  • hallucinations - sensations that only they experience. This can include voices speaking to them that only they can hear.
  • delusions - fixed, mistaken ideas that the person holds. These are often odd or incorrect ideas about themselves and the world around them.

Both hallucinations and delusions do not happen voluntarily. They happen unconsciously and are not planned by the person who experiences them Typically, when people attempt to correct the delusions, the person will become defensive and will resist the idea that they are incorrect. From their perspective, the ideas seem to be true and make sense to them.

The hallucinations and delusions are 'imagined' in the sense that they do not have a solid basis in reality. However, they cannot be avoided and appear as real as other perceptions to the people who experience them. People with schizophrenia take the hallucinations seriously because of problems in their brain. Hallucinations are a sort of 'virtual reality' that people become trapped within. The delusional thoughts that form around these hallucinations are a natural response to what they believe they are experiencing.

People with schizophrenia tend to think and act differently than other people. This happens because the hallucinations, delusions and other symptoms of the disease cause them to experience reality very differently than other people. This loss of reality can be terrifying and cause them to struggle a great deal to make sense of their experiences. It is also very difficult for the people around them who are trying to understand why their loved ones are acting in such odd ways.