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Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious psychiatric illnesses. It affects one percent of the general population. This is a socially and financially devastating disease that robs people of their most productive years of life. Schizophrenia still continues to be one of the most complex, puzzling and disabling of the major mental illnesses.
Most symptoms develop in men around the age of sixteen and twenty-five years old, and around twenty-five to thirty years old in women. Schizophrenia rarely develops in children and most schizophrenics appear to have a normal childhood.
A delusion, which is a false belief that defies logic and common sense, is a common symptom of schizophrenia. The person thinks someone is watching them constantly or they think people can read their mind. Hallucinations, hearing, seeing or sensing something that isn't there, are another common symptom of schizophrenia. Some people experience heightened senses, which is hypersensitivity of sense that leads to visual distortions. Others experience auditory hallucinations. They sometimes carry on conversations or are told to do things by one or may voices that are not there. Very rarely, but still as devastating, some experience visual hallucinations or smell odd smells coming from themselves. (Young, 67-68) More that 300,000 adults in this country are unable to distinguish their imaginations from reality (Cookson).
In the 1700's and the 1800's, before much was known about mental diseases, schizophrenia was thought of as witchcraft (Nichols). Anyone who displayed signs of this
disease was thought to have been possessed. The Puritans believed "distraction", as they called it, was either possession by the devil, or punishment for sins. Yet, the strange behavior of those afflicted was looked upon with tolerance. Through much of the 1700's, family or friends were expected to take care of the mentally ill. Dorothea Dix was a school teacher who took up the cause of the mentally ill in the mid 1800's, found disturbed individuals living in sordid conditions, "confined in cages, closets, cellars, stalls and pens: chained, naked, beaten with rods and lashed into obedience." She worked to help these people live a more normal life. (Goode)
A dismal outlook for schizophrenia was dramatically changed in the 1950's with the development of the first antipsychotic drug, Chlorpromazine (Thorazine). Since then, more that a dozen other similar-acting antipsychotic medications have been developed. These drugs work by blocking binding sites of dopamine, which is a main factor in schizophrenia. Chlorpromazine was first used as an antihistamine. Then, it was found to calm hyperactive schizophrenic patients out of withdrawal and reduced major symptoms of the disease. A lot of false medication was used before the discovery of chlorpromazine. An insulin coma, as one example, was used to relieve most symptoms by overloading the patient's body with insulin. This helped some patients, because it calmed them down, but killed most of them. Electroconvulsive therapy, where brief pulses of electronegativity are passed through the brain, was also used. It was thought that using this type of treatment, symptoms could be reduced or eliminated, but it did neither. This only helped the severely depressed and only calmed them for a little while. Doctors also attempted a frontal lobotomy, which was a surgical removal of the front parts of the brain. A frontal
lobotomy was done because it was thought that the front part of the brain was responsible for schizophrenia. This did nothing but make a quieter patient. These practices were commonly used to try to suppress the main symptoms of schizophrenia. Mainly, these practices did nothing but torture the patient and make him or her suffer extremely. (Young 67-68)
Many schizophrenics will carry on conversations with voices or people who are not really there. The voices may tell them what to do and how to harm themselves or others. This puts the patient at a huge risk for committing suicide. The medication that is prescribed to them attempts to stop the
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