I knew a guy who developed schizophrenia. He was completely incapacitated by the disease, unable to finish any of his projects. In fact he even told me that he had to throw out one project–a sculpture of a head — that he was working on, because it would wake him up in the middle of the night screaming.
What I didn’t realize was that he, like a number of other young college students, was suffering from a psychotic break. Shortly after dropping out of SCAD, he was admitted to Skyland Trail, a non-profit mental illness treatment center, with a schizophrenia diagnosis.
While many of us have heard the name of the mental disorder, most of us don’t actually know how large of an impact it leaves. You see, schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that affects about one percent of the population worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even more shocking is that college students are especially at risk for developing this mental illness.
The disorder begins manifests when the sufferer starts seeing things that aren’t there by hallucinating, thinking strange and often paranoid thoughts, and making no sense with disorganized speech patterns.
This leads to “social and occupational dysfunction” according to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which means that sufferers of schizophrenia are often unable to lead normal lives.
But you might say, “ Well schizophrenia doesn’t affect a lot of students, therefore it’s not THAT big of a problem.” That’s where you’re wrong.
The CDC reports that when someone has a “psychotic break” or an “episode”, it often occurs at a young age For men it’s as young as 20 years old, which automatically places them in an “at risk” category. For women, it’s a little later, around the mid-30s, but they don’t manifest symptoms as often as men do and tend to have a more ‘residual’ illness.
However, there are a lot more contributing factors to the illness rather than the horrible stereotype of someone just “losing it” one day. In fact, family history of schizophrenia and illness in the womb make an impact as well.
But the most unique risk factor pertaining to college students is the use of psychoactive drugs, especially marijuana, which increases the risk of those susceptible to schizophrenia by 30 percent, according to Everyday Health.
Also earlier this month Georgia State published a release about brain abnormalities presenting in mental illnesses. Without getting too deep into it, the research confirms that there’s much we still don’t know about schizophrenia and its effects on the brain.
Apart from these potential risk factors and the general trends in the age of first manifestation, not a whole lot is actually known about the illness and how to treat it. But what I can tell you is that the mental illness is an awful affliction that leaves people unable to continue life as they know it if left untreated.
But as with any disease, it can be a tremendous help if the afflicted has friends and family who are supportive of them. It’s up to those nearby to catch the early symptoms and help them get treatment as soon as possible.
So if you know anyone you think might be exhibiting early symptoms, keep an eye on them and let them know you’re there for them if they need help.
Those afflicted by the disease can take comfort in the words of successful law professor at the University of Southern California and writer Elyn Saks who herself has schizophrenia:
“There’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life.”
Not all hope is lost for those with schizophrenia. There are plenty of options for treatment, and seven mental health treatment facilities within the perimeter. And there is a health center on Georgia State campus. But those afflicted can’t get treatment without those around recognizing their symptoms, the earlier, the better.