About 1 in 5 Americans suffers from some kind of mental health issues in a given year. Not all of these people have a chronic mental illness, but many of them do.
I am one of these people. I have a chronic serious mental illness. It is called schizoaffective disorder. It is a mix of schizophrenic symptoms and bipolar/mood disorder symptoms. Even when stabilized, it can still take its toll. It is very hard to gain and keep stability, but I fight every day to keep stable. Here are some more things you may not know about this disease and about mental illness in general:
1. It is not the same as schizophrenia.
While it is similar to schizophrenia, it is recognized as a separate illness. This occurs because the patient has enough symptoms of both illnesses to warrant a separate diagnosis. There is a major overlap with symptoms in schizoaffective disorder. Some symptoms include depression, mania, paranoia, hallucinations, memory loss, and concentration problems. Both are still serious illnesses that need treatment. Recovery and treatment are more important than putting labels on the condition.
2. It's rare.
About one in 200 people will develop schizoaffective disorder at some point in their lives. Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are the most common serious mental illnesses in hospitals. We do end up in the hospital more than people with other psychiatric illness. Many people can find recovery with medicine and therapy, though. Many people with serious psychiatric illnesses can lead fairly normal lives. It's a chronic illness that needs to be managed. Following a strong treatment regimen can help cut down on the amount of hospital stays. Never stop a medicine without your doctor's approval. Listen to your therapist and doctor. Try the things that they suggest even if you don't like them all.
3. It's NOT caused by a weak character or bad parenting.
This is just wrong. This is a major stigma among people with mental illnesses. People think that it's something you can just snap out of. New research is showing that the disease has a genetic component. It, along with other mental illnesses, can run in families. It can be hard to find out if your ancestors had it, though. We have more technology and knowledge to aid in diagnosis. Also, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM) has changed over the years. Current theories show that it is also caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals. So, this is a lot more complicated than just "lightening up" or "snapping out of it."
4. Psychosis is not just hallucinations.
This can apply to many mental illnesses. When you mention schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, people think of someone having hallucinations. Psychosis is a lot more than that, and people with other mental illnesses can experience psychosis as well. Some other symptoms include bizarre thinking, difficulty with controlling emotions, disorganized speech, and general odd behavior. It can be very scary for the person experiencing it. Don't dismiss their concerns if your loved one is having an episode. Comfort them. Remind them that it's not real.
5. Depression is not just sadness.
Again, this could apply to other illnesses, but schizoaffective people can experience depression. Depression is a lot more than just being sad. It can cause irritability. The person loses interest in everyday activities. It can also cause cognitive problems such as poor memory and concentration. It can cause appetite changes and sleep changes. People eat too much or too little. People sleep too much or don't sleep at all. They may experience some suicidal thoughts.
6. It is NOT multiple personality disorder.
People believe that schizophrenia and/or schizoaffective disorder involves multiple personality disorder. Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is the condition that involves multiple personalities. They are different mental illnesses. People with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia can sometimes hear voices, but that is different. That is a foreign voice in your thoughts. Multiple personalities involves people acting like a completely different person. They also have delusions or paranoia.
7. People with these disorders are smart.
Some people will equate mental illnesses with cognitive disabilities. Many of us do have problems with memory, concentration, and learning. However, that doesn't mean we are not smart. Many of us can still manage to get degrees and get good jobs. It may be more difficult, but we can live a normal life as well. Some people link psychosis with increased creativity.
8. Medicine is just a part of the recovery process.
Medicines are an important tool in treating mental illnesses. However, medicine doesn't fix everything. Attending talk therapy can really help people cope with this illness. Occupational therapy can help in finding and keeping a job. Also, eating right and exercising can help you feel better. Schizoaffective disorder can be treated with combinations of anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, and/or anti-depressants. It may take a while, but finding the right combination can make a huge difference in someone's quality of life.
9. There are different types of schizoaffective disorder.
Schizoaffective disorder can be broken down into multiple types. It depends on what type(s) of mood symptoms you have. If you are primarily a depressive and schizoaffective, then you might have the depressive type. There is also a manic type. Mania is a period in a mood disorder where the person experiences symptoms such as high energy, racing thoughts, risky behavior, and more. There is a manic (or bipolar) type of schizoaffective disorder. There is also a mixed type. You may have this type if you experience both types of mood symptoms at one point.
10. Drinking alcohol causes major problems.
Unfortunately, people with mental illnesses are also susceptible to addiction/substance abuse problems. Drinking alcohol can make the medicine not work properly. It also makes you feel the effects of the alcohol more than other people. It may make you feel good for a little while, but it isn't good to take it in the long run. Illegal drugs can also cause problems. Many people who suffer from this, or any, mental illnesses are more likely to have other disorders.