By Laura Burke

What is schizophrenia?† No, it is not a split personality.† It is a complex brain disorder that affects 1% of the population.† It impacts how a person thinks, feels, behaves, and perceives their world.

What are the symptoms?† The symptoms of schizophrenia include positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.† Positive ones (not meaning good, but additional) include hallucinations: seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting things that arenít really there.† Also in this category are false beliefs, or delusions, and paranoia.† Negative symptoms (not meaning bad, but less than the norm) include apathy, lack of motivation, slowed speech and thought, and diminished ability to feel and express emotion.† Cognitive symptoms include impaired organizational abilities, poor concentration, and inhibited ability to express oneself.

Can you treat schizophrenia in its early stages?† Yes.† The sooner a person receives treatment, the better their outcome.† The early stage of schizophrenia is called a prodrome.† This usually involves milder versions of the above symptoms, a decline in functioning, and possibly mood and anxiety issues.† It is hard to determine a prodrome from other mental health problems, but with appropriate follow-up, you can be sure to treat the illness quickly if it does develop.

So what now?† If I have schizophrenia, will I get better?† The odds point to ďyes.Ē† Seventy percent of people with schizophrenia significantly recover, and that number is increasing as better treatments become available, and more people are getting help earlier.

How long will it take me to feel better?† Positive symptoms usually abate within a month or two with the appropriate medication, cognitive symptoms clear up a little more slowly, and recovery from negative symptoms takes the most time and effort.† Be patient.† Participating in activities with family and friends seems to kick start recovery from negative symptoms.† The most change may be seen in the first year or two, but research shows that people continue to get better as the years go by.

How long do I have to stay on my meds?† Most doctors suggest a regular medication regime for at least two years.† After this point, you can make the decision to stop medication with your doctor, keeping in mind that the risk of relapse can be up to 80% if you make this choice.† A better option for most people is to stay on a lower maintenance dose for a longer period of time.† However, if side effects are too problematic and they donít subside over time, there is always the choice to talk to your doctor about switching medications.

How do I tell people, and when is it appropriate?† Disclosing personal information about your health is always up to you.† You definitely donít have to disclose.† However, you might feel better understood if people close to you can share in something which has likely made an impact on your life.† Describing schizophrenia as a treatable brain disorder is often a good start.

How can I meet others who understand?† There are support groups through and outside of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, all across the province.† Information about these support networks is available on our website and on our blog.† There are also clubhouses in the HRM area, and in select areas of the province, for people who have mental illness to socialize, access community supports, and get back on their feet.

For further resources on education about schizophrenia and psychosis, please click here.