Mental health: New schizophrenia research offers hope
Probably no brain disorder has been as poorly understood and sensationalized than schizophrenia.
First recognized by Dr. Emil Kraepelin in 1898, people suffering from schizophrenia have been said to have split personalities or schizophrenic mothers who caused it. They are portrayed as violent, dangerous people with a low I.Q., when just the opposite is often true.
It has been widely understood by the scientific community that schizophrenia has a genetic predisposition to it, that people who have it are no more violent than the general population, and that often the person may be above average in intelligence. Untreated psychosis with voices telling someone to hurt someone can make someone with any disorder more prone to violence, and is a different issue.
New technologies and understanding about the illness are currently in the forefront in treating schizophrenia.
Currently, more than 1 percent of the world’s population has schizophrenia, with an estimated three million cases in the United States alone. It was estimated in 2002 that Americans spent nearly $63 billion on treatment and managing the disability – with an emotional cost that’s even higher. Approximately 10 percent of those with schizophrenia are driven to commit suicide by the burden of coping with the disease. These are statistics from scientists at the Salk institute, in La Jolla, California, who are drivers of new research. That research may eventually assist with overcoming the roadblocks of caring for people with this often-devastating disorder.
Schizophrenia is characterized by symptoms that are referred to as positive or negative. The positive symptoms include florid hallucinations, paranoia, threatening voices and disorganization, which can make people think the FBI is following them or the T.V. is talking to them. Often the behavior is described as bizarre, such as wearing wool caps in the dead of summer or talking to a park bench with no one sitting on it.
People with positive symptoms are generally more responsive to medication than those with negative symptoms, which include profound apathy, lack of motivation, hearing voices, and an inability to show emotion.
When my son was an adolescent, and first diagnosed with schizophrenia, he had a total loss of emotion. Mothers around me were worried about buying school clothes, and all I wanted was for my son to smile.
Research surrounding schizophrenia is focused on the disorder in general, but a lot of it is targeted on those with the negative symptoms because of the poor outcome of existing treatments.
Neuro-imaging and stem cell research is currently being studied to help understand how the brain works.
Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D. and president and CEO of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, said in a June 10 webinar that “impaired cognition is present at the onset and throughout the life span of those with the illness and that current availability of treatments have not had much impact on treatment.” Impaired cognition includes problems with memory, attention and even language.
He also noted that cognitive rehabilitation needs to be part of the overall treatment plan. Currently, there are research trials which support the combined use of computer games, and group and one-on-one therapy to improve cognitive functioning. This is an exciting development and may help change lives, and provide more hope of a stable, happy life, rather than merely existing, as so many people with schizophrenia currently do.
Pamela Field has been a psychiatric nurse for more than 20 years and is an active mental health advocate. She is interested in community input on mental issues and may be reached at 575-312-2288 and firstname.lastname@example.org.