Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder marked by severely impaired thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Schizophrenic patients are typically unable to filter sensory stimuli and may have enhanced perceptions of sounds, colors, and other features of their environment. Most schizophrenics, if untreated, gradually withdraw from interactions with other people, and lose their ability to take care of personal needs.
The English term schizophrenia comes from two Greek words that mean “split mind.” It was observed around 1908, by a Swiss doctor named Eugen Bleuler, to describe the splitting apart of mental functions that he regarded as the central characteristic of schizophrenia.
My mother lived in the “acute” phase of this illness for decades. The acute phase is when someone has obviously lost contact with reality and has become psychotic. The subtype of schizophrenia she lived with is paranoid schizophrenia which generally includes a combination of delusions and auditory hallucinations. These delusions usually involve thoughts of being persecuted or under attack, they can also have exaggerated opinions of their own importance. In addition, they can have feelings of excessive religiosity.
The delusions are typically organized into a coherent story. Paranoid schizophrenics function at a higher level than other schizophrenic types, but supposedly are at risk for suicidal or violent behavior under the influence of their delusions. As far as I know my mother was never suicidal nor violent, however her delusions took her to a whole different realm of reality.
Yes – who is to say if her reality was worse or better than “the norm”?
My mother also had anosognosia (lack of insight) which is considered a big problem for people with schizophrenia. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the book health care professionals use to diagnose mental illnesses, a majority of individuals with schizophrenia have anosognosia, which means they do not believe they have a psychotic illness. According to some studies this lack of insight occurs in about 50 percent of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. Trying to get a person to see that they have a mental disorder may be a lost cause, because they simply cannot believe there is anything wrong with their behavior or thought processes; therefore they refuse to take medications or undergo psychiatric treatment. This is actually quite logical because why would you take medication for an illness you don’t know you have?
These two films show how schizophrenics hear and see the world. The first film is a slideshow with sound from NPR. The second is higher quality.