ANLERIE DE WET
Remember Amanda Bynes? That kid who had her own TV show on Nickelodeon and later went on to making popular teen movies such as She’s the Man and Hairspray? Yes, the same actress who recently started a fire in a random elderly woman’s driveway as well as accidentally soaking her dog in gasoline and setting her own pants on fire.
At first glance, the media depicted the now 27-year-old as just another child star who fell off the wagon. However, after being arrested and placed under involuntary psychiatric care last month, several doctors who have been observing Bynes’s behaviour believe that she could be suffering from schizophrenia.
According to the non-profit resource website Helpguide.org, schizophrenia is “a brain disorder that affects the way a person acts, thinks and sees the world”. People who suffer from schizophrenia have an “altered perception of reality”. The most
common misconception about schizophrenia is that its victims have “split personalities”. However, this is an entirely different disorder known as dissociative identity disorder. Schizophrenia, on the other hand, is when a person’s mental functions are “split” from reality. The cause of schizophrenia is complex and as of yet not fully understood. A connection between genetics and environmental factors has been found to be the most likely cause of the disorder.
Helpguide.org explains that when it comes to genetics, an individual has a 10% chance of developing schizophrenia if his or her parents have had the condition. In total, 40% of schizophrenics have had family members with the disorder.
According to Schizophrenia.com, genetics only make a person more prone to developing schizophrenia but environmental factors such as stress can trigger the disorder. Another cause that plays a role in the development of the disorder is the abnormality of an individual’s brain structure. Many diagnosed schizophrenics have enlarged brain ventricles where there is very little activity in the frontal lobe (part of the brain responsible for reasoning and decision-making).
Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. in New Jersey found that schizophrenia is more severe in men than it is in women because men develop schizophrenic behaviour at an earlier age. It is argued that men are more likely to hit their head and cause brain damage during sports at a young age, increasing the risk for schizophrenia. The fact that men have more violent and threatening breakouts than women also adds to the equation. Men are more likely to develop schizophrenia between their teens and their 20s, whereas women are more likely to develop it in their 20s or 30s. The younger a person is when he or she develops the disorder, the worse it is.
Although schizophrenia is a rare condition, it can still be found among students. According to Kobus du Plooy, a clinical psychologist at UP Student Support, there have been cases of schizophrenia at UP, “albeit very few,” he says.
Du Plooy says that it only affects about 1% to 1.5% of the total population. Because it is such a rare condition and because every patient tends to show different kinds of signs and symptoms, it is difficult to diagnose a person as schizophrenic.
Schizophrenia can be a devastating disorder for the victims and also for their friends and family. If the condition is not treated properly or if it is ignored, the effects can include disruptions in relationships, drug and alcohol abuse and a high risk of attempted suicide.
Although schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness, there is still hope of a good balanced life. If schizophrenia is properly diagnosed and effectively treated, those suffering from it may improve and carry on living functional lives, according to Du Plooy, whereas the wrong diagnosis and treatment can worsen the condition.
The responsibility to help a person with schizophrenia lies with his or her family and friends. Anyone who has this mental disorder will not even realise that their problems are fueled by an illness. If they are unwilling to seek help from a psychiatrist or psychologist, it is best to inform the police or any other emergency services who can legally detain your loved one for medical analysis. Registered students at UP who suffer from this condition can receive free medical services along with psychotherapy from Student Support.
With the right support and treatment, schizophrenia is a disease that can be kept under control.
Early warning signs and symptoms of schizophrenia:
• Withdrawal from social life
• No concern for personal hygiene
• Irrational statements
• Inability to show true emotions
• Delusions: schizophrenics have a strong belief (despite rational evidence) that reality is fake. They may feel like someone is out to get them and/or to control them or they may believe that they are somebody else.
• Hallucinations: schizophrenics hear voices or sounds that seem real to them (these voices are commonly cruel and vulgar). It tends to be worse when they are alone.
• Disorganised speech: they can start a sentence saying one thing and then trail off to another topic entirely. They often repeat themselves and make up words.
• Disorganised behaviour: their daily activities and functions take a toll for the worse, which makes them unable to take care of themselves. This is because they have no impulse or inhibition.