Schizophrenia is a most misunderstood disease. It will affect one in every 100 Americans during their lifetime, yet too often it is hidden in the closet by families and ignored by professionals. A revolution is underway, for schizophrenia is emerging. Schizophrenia is now known to be a disease of the brain and is not caused by any guilty acts or failures of the patient. Like diabetics, schizophrenics may be able to control their symptoms with medication. This paper will discuss the effects, symptoms, and treatments for this illness.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder marked by the loss of contact with reality. When a person's thinking, feeling, and behavior is abnormal, it interferes with his or her ability to function in everyday life. Delusions, hallucinations, and irregular thinking and emotions are produced. If these signs are present, he or she may have the mental illness called schizophrenia. Inter-episode residual symptoms are common. This often-chronic illness can be characterized by three phases that merge into one another without absolute, clear boundaries between them.

The first phase is the acute phase. During this florid psychotic phase, patients exhibit severe psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and / or hallucinations and severely disorganized thinking, and are usually unable to care for themselves appropriately. Negative symptoms often become more severe as well. In the next stage, the stabilization phase, acute psychotic symptoms decrease in severity. This phase may last for 6 or more months after the onset of an acute episode. The third phase is the stable phase.

Symptoms are relatively stable and, if present at all, are almost always less severe than in the acute phase. Patients can be asymptomatic; others may manifest non-psychotic symptoms, such as tension, anxiety, depression, or insomnia. When negative (deficit) symptoms and / or positive symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, or thought disorder, persist, they are often present in attenuated, non-psychotic forms (e. g. , illusions rather than hallucinations, overvalued ideas rather than delusions) (American Psychiatric Associations "guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Schizophrenia"). About one hundred years ago, schizophrenia was first recognized as a mental disorder and researchers have been searching for a cure ever since.

The cause of the disease is still unknown today and scientists have concluded that it has more than one cause. Scientists have developed dozens of theories: the Genetic Theory, the Environmental Theory, the Biochemical Theory, and the Bio-Psycho-Social Theory. The Genetic Theory argues that schizophrenia is caused by traits in a person's genetic makeup. A normal person has twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. Each pair contains one chromosome from each parent.

In corresponding locations called loci of each chromosome, the genes can cause schizophrenia. We inherit our genes form out parents, but this does not mean that the parents of a schizophrenic are mentally ill. Problems in a person's genetic makeup could come from a mutated chromosomes or recessive genes. In an attempt to prove this theory, scientists studied identical twins. Due to the fact that identical twins have identical genetic makeup, researchers are able to determine if the heredity is the main cause of schizophrenia. However, evidence seems to disprove this theory.

In some instances, both identical twins are schizophrenics and other times only one is affected. To defend this theory it should be noted that this research is complicated. Identical twins are relatively rare, especially twins who are both diagnosed with schizophrenia. Studies have also shown that children with one parent diagnosed with schizophrenia have a ten percent chance of suffering from schizophrenia.

When both parents are schizophrenic their risk raises to approximately forty percent. Little is known about the Environmental Theory. The theory is built mainly on the effects of stress on human behavior. Most researchers agree that stress alone cannot be the main cause of schizophrenia. Most researchers agree that stress could possibly trigger or worsen the symptoms when the illness is already present. Other researchers focus on drug abuse, like stress, certain drugs such as amphetamines can make psychotic symptoms worse if a person already has schizophrenia.

Furthermore, these drugs can, in a sense, create schizophrenia. Other researchers that support the Environmental Theory believe that "slow viruses" may be to blame. Slow viruses are viral infections that go undetected for long periods of time. Signs and symptoms are delayed and may occur many years after the first infection.

The Bio-Chemical Theory suggests that schizophrenia is caused by mixed up signals in the brain. When something acts upon one of our senses, electrical impulses are sent to the brain. These impulses allow us to feel, smell, taste, hear, and they may also manage our thought processes. In our body we have a complex nervous system. For example, there is not simply a single nerve that travels from our feet to our brain. In order for information to be sent to the brain, the nerves must interact with each other, translating the messages from one nerve to the next.

Because the system is so complex it is possible for the signal to get mixed up. When this happens, our brain may misinterpret the signal or may not receive it at all. If the signal does get mixed up on the way to the brain the makeup of the impulse can undergo a chemical change resulting in irregular thought processes and abnormal behavior. Scientists have undergone in-depth studies on a chemical in the brain called dopamine. They believe that schizophrenics have higher levels of this chemical than a mentally sound person does.

To experiment on this theory, researchers have injected animals and humans with amphetamines, increasing the amount of dopamine reaching the brain. Following the injection, the animals exhibited the same type of behavior as humans who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, such as standing still for ling periods of time or continually pacing. In humans, research has shown that when given small doses of amphetamines the amount of dopamine in the brain increases slightly. Although the increase is small it still causes delusions and hallucinations.

In conclusion, researchers believe that an increased amount of dopamine to the brain causes abnormal behavior; however, they cannot safely say that this is the sole cause of schizophrenia. The Bio-Psycho-Social Theory combines all the previous theories. Some researchers believe that bio-chemical abnormalities area contributing factor but that other events must also occur. They suggest that environmental and social problems have to be considered along with biological problems.

Social scientists believe that no chemical factors are involved; instead they believe "mental disorders are described as a consequence of human motivations, drives, and unconscious forces." (Douglas W. Smith, 1993). These scientists suggest that people become overloaded with the anxiety which accompanies these stressors. Instead of dealing with their problems they seek peace in their own world.

For example, it is common for individuals to return to "happy times" in their life such as infancy and they begin to act like a child. Scientists have asked if there is a particular nationality that suffers more than any other. Studies have been done in Ireland and it appears that one in every twenty-five people show signs of schizophrenia, opposed to on in every hundred in the United States. E. Fuller Torrey has spent a great deal of time researching a number of schizophrenics in Ireland. Torrey has discovered that the population of schizophrenics has been rising since the 18 th Century.

After he made his findings public other scientists began asking questions as to why the Irish were suffering so badly. The basis of their research focused around their diet; mainly potatoes. If potatoes are exposed to too much sunlight they produce an alkaloid called solaine. Solaine has the ability to induce gastro-intestinal problems and psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations. The idea that schizophrenia in Ireland is caused by the potato is not as far fetched as people might think. Closer to home, a mental disease that afflicted southerners, pellagra was caused solely form the lack of the vitamin niacin.

This may lead us to believe that a mental disorder can be caused by too much exposure or lack of a certain type of food. Another possibility if the amount of insecticides the Irish consume from the potato. At planting time farmers use high amounts of chemicals in their potatoes to protect them from insects. When an insect ingests the chemical they are easily killed because the chemicals interfere with the normal functioning of the nervous system by disrupting the transmission of nerve impulses. If large doses of these chemicals have the same effect on humans as they do on insects this could answer the Irish dilemma. These toxins could be especially dangerous t....