Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by difficulty managing emotions, making decisions, relating to others and separating fantasy from reality. About 1 percent of the U.S. population suffers from the condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms typically start to be noticeable in men in their late teens or early 20s and in women in their 20s and 30s. Common signs include social withdrawal, delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking and cognitive defects. Schizophrenia has no cure but treatment focuses on allowing patients to live independent and productive lives.
Schizophrenics are typically prescribed medications to help stabilize the level of chemicals in the brain that control mood. These medications are called antipsychotics and fall into two categories: typical–or conventional–antipsychotics and atypical antpsychotics.
Typical antipsychotics include chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, haloperidol, trifluoperazine and thioridazine. These medications have more bothersome side effects than atypical antipsychotics, which include risperidone, clozapine, quetiapine and ziprasidone.
Atypical antipsychotics are considered as effective as the conventional drugs but are often preferred because they cause less side effects.
Once patients begin to take their medications and have had their mood stabilized, psychosocial treatments are often used to help patients learn to deal with their disease and function with it. Psychosocial treatments include individual and group therapy and learning coping mechanisms that allow patients to function socially with the disease. Patients who undergo these treatments are more likely to stay on their medications. Family support groups are also recommended for close family members of schizophrenics to help them learn to cope and help their loved one manage the condition.
When symptoms of schizophrenia become severe or put patients in danger of hurting themselves or others, hospitalization may be necessary. Patients suffering from hallucinations and delusions, especially, may need to be hospitalized until the condition can be brought under control. Hospitalization also may be needed for patients who are abusing alcohol and drugs and stop taking their medications, allowing the condition to worsen.