Schizophrenia: A Misunderstood Illness

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What do you do when your mind has turned against you? What happens when you can longer trust your own senses? It is a terrifying thought. To lose one's mind is to lose one's self. That is the life you live when you have schizophrenia. 

Across all forms of media, schizophrenia is portrayed unrealistically. Characters suffering from schizophrenia are often portrayed as crazy or dangerous. Repeated portrayals such as these over the past few years has led to the stigmatization of this mental illness. Once that happens, people with schizophrenia are much less likely to come forward. No one wants the label of "crazy". Men are especially vulnerable to this sort of characterization. We are brought up to be strong and to believe that invisible illnesses are not as serious as physical ones. This is why it is important that men have no shame about speaking up and seeking help. It's why it's important that we smash all misconceptions and stigmas about schizophrenia.

To even start making schizophrenia more palatable and open, we must first know exactly what we're talking about. The National Institute of Mental Health’s definition of schizophrenia is “a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling”. What’s worse, is that the symptoms of schizophrenia are often hard to diagnose and even spot. Hollywood has muddied these waters by playing up the extreme symptoms of schizophrenia. Split personalities and hearing voices could be possible, but they are not the be all end all. Some of the symptoms include the belief that ordinary events and moments hold personal significance for you, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, the false belief of superiority, circumstantial speech, frantic speech, persecutory beliefs, and extreme paranoia. These are a sampling of the symptoms. It is understandable why schizophrenia is so hard to pin down. This is an illness that is only apparent in hindsight.

Everything above is the bad news. The good news is that with the right medical help schizophrenia is a treatable and manageable disease. There are various medicines and techniques people can begin that mitigate the symptoms of schizophrenia. It is more than possible to lead a full and healthy life without letting this illness impact your life.

It wasn’t always so easy though. There have been a number of shoddy cures for diseases like schizophrenia throughout history. One of the oldest and most brutal was the procedure known as Trepanation. Trepanation was, for lack of anything less horrifying, the act of drilling holes in a person's skull. This was done while the “patient” was still awake. The idea was that demons were inhabiting the ill person and needed to be released. What better way than a hole in the head? Jump ahead a few hundred years and things haven't improved much. Now doctors realized that mental disorders are by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Figuring that out they assumed, correctly, that medicinal drugs could provide relief. That’s why Dr. Manfred Sakel decided to give his patients insulin-induced comas, in the hopes of curing them. There was no scientific backing for this and reportedly 2% of his patients died. Lastly, there is the most famous of all terrible cures: the Lobotomy. The cure actually worked in curing schizophrenia. It however, also turned people in near zombies.

Now we are living in a comparative golden age of mental health and understanding. Modern treatments are based on the use of anti-psychotic medications. These medicines serve to tamper down the symptoms of schizophrenia. They also balance out the user. Therapy is also shown to have amazing results when used in conjunction with the anti-psychotic medications.

There should be no shame in seeking help for any and all mental illness’ you may suffer from. Men have been brought up to be strong and tough. We are taught to believe that mental illnesses can be ignored, or that we should “just get over it”. Our cultural expectations of men combined with societies backward view of mental health and wellness have created an environment where men feel as if they cannot come forward and seek help. That feeling alongside the symptoms of schizophrenia is a dangerous cocktail. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit when they need help. Schizophrenia is a lifelong mental illness but it can be managed and it can be tamed. People suffering from it, and men in particular, just need to feel secure enough to come forward without being judged, and we as a society should allow for that.