A Few of the 'W's

A Few of the 'W's
It's hard to begin a discussion on such a broad-reaching topic without a common knowledge base to work from, so I've created a brief overview below.  I've decided to focus on schizophrenia for now because that's what I have the most direct experience with and because it is also one of the most commonly misunderstood illnesses.  The media is shockingly adept at producing both positive and negative stereotypes that often distort public impressions of this disease.  (Hint: 1 in 10 patients with schizophrenia commit suicide.  One in a million receive Nobel Prizes.)

Schizophrenia affects 1% of the world's population, which amounts to about 2.2 million Americans.  It is more prevalent than Alzheimer's, MS and insulin-dependent diabetes combined.  So how come you don't hear about it more?  Maybe it's the same reason cute, fuzzy animals tend to receive better environmental protections--they're more compelling.  MS doesn't tend to up your risk of substance abuse or incarceration, and nobody ever writes scary movies about MS patients.

Schizophrenia is a chronic, degenerative brain disorder that affects thought processes and emotional responsiveness.  It can result in up to 25% of brain tissue loss over a patient's lifetime.  This is comparable to the degree of damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, except that unlike Alzheimer's schizophrenia only targets specific areas of the brain.  Even though evidence of structural abnormalities in the brain were first detected in the 1970's, schizophrenia has remained misclassified as a psychiatric disorder, perhaps again due to its unpopularity.  Mounting evidence has led many researchers and practitioners to believe that the disease ought to be treated by neurologists, not psychiatrists.

It is a complex illness that comes with a lot of caveats.  Symptoms can include but are not limited to some or all of the following: hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, disorganized speech and thinking, and social and occupational dysfunction.  

It is NOT...
It IS...

My worst pet peeve is when people use the word 'schizophrenic' as an adjective when they mean to say 'contradictory' or 'nonsensical' instead.  Sure, it's widely used...so are a bunch of other objectionable words in the dictionary.  Not only does its use promote stigma, but it also promotes misinformation as well.  Schizophrenia has nothing to do with split personalities, and one of the main reasons 64% of the public thinks it does is because a famous antisemitic poet incorrectly coined its use back in 1933.

If you really want to use a medical term as a metaphor, the proper word would be something along the lines of 'dissociative-identity-disorder-ish'.  Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?  A lot of people ask me how they can help improve conditions for people with brain disorders, and one of the easiest things everyone can do is to stop using the word in the wrong context and explain to others why it's inappropriate.  Many family members feel that it's on par with using the term 'gay' to mean 'uncool', or 'retarded' to mean 'dumb'.  It's just unnecessary.

Schizophrenia occurs worldwide and affects roughly 51 million people on the planet.  The WHO has ranked it in the top 10 causes of disability in developed nations.  Global prevalence rates are difficult to compare since measuring standards vary quite a bit, but they tend to fall slightly above or below the 1% range.  One of the biggest geographical factors is urban environments, which display statistically significant higher rates of prevalence after controlling for population size.

This disease is known for striking early in life, usually around adolescence and the early 20's.  But what a lot of people don't know is that late-onset cases can also occur, particularly in women.  That's what happened to my mom.

All facts not directly cited in this post are sourced from here and here.