The Minefield of Schizophrenia
Having a family member diagnosed with schizophrenia is distressing
enough, but having to deal with the terminology and language of schizophrenia
can be a nightmare in its own right. Here is a short glossary of terms
that are frequently used by mental health professionals to describe
the common characteristics of this puzzling and disturbing illness.
- Acute episode
The period of the illness when severe symptoms, including hallucinations
and delusions, are experienced.
A synonym for “mood” and refers to the outward expression
of emotion. Persons suffering from schizophrenia may be described
as having “flat effect” meaning that little or no emotion
is registered during events which would normally elucidate crying,
- Atypical antipsychotic medications.
Sounds worse that it really is and simply refers to the newer class
of antipsychotic medications that we developed in the 1990s. They
cause fewer side effects than more traditional drug treatments and
some also address a wider array of symptoms.
- Chemical imbalance
Refers to the theory that schizophrenia (as well as many other psychological
disturbances) is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the
brain. Medications attempt to restore or at least mitigate these potential
imbalances, resulting in improved mood and behavior.
- Cognitive symptoms
This term refers to the difficulty some sufferers experience in their
ability to think clearly, and hence may have trouble problem solving
(such as loading the address book of a mobile phone), or problems
with memory, including retaining and recalling information.
Thoughts and beliefs that the sufferer is convinced are true but have
no basis in reality.
One of a number of neurotransmitters that act as chemical messengers
in the brain. Abnormal levels of dopamine are linked to the development
- Early warning signs
Behaviors and symptoms indicative of a possible relapse. These include
sleep disturbances, anxiety, agitation, and occasional delusional
- Electroconvulsive Therapy
Also known as ECT, this is a medical treatment involving passing a
controlled electrical current through the brain of the sufferer. Used
to treat severe mental illness; in particular, depression which has
not responded to other therapies. Side effects include memory loss.
- Extrapyramidal effects
Abnormal bodily movements (e.g. stiffness, twitching, trembling) that
are a side effect of antipsychotic medication.
Imaginary, and often frightening, perceptions experienced during a
psychotic episode that involve any of the five senses. The sufferer
may see things that do not exist, or hear, taste or feel experiences
that do not occur in reality.
- Hearing voices
A type of hallucination in which the sufferer hears voices, or hears
his or her own thoughts actually spoken aloud, or other sounds that
no-one else can hear. Often several voices may occur at once, causing
acute stress for the sufferer. The voices are invariable negative
- Maintenance therapy
Treatment which is aimed at the reduction of relapse and may include
regular hospital in-patient admissions in an attempt to reduce stresses
experienced in coping with life.
- Negative symptoms
Refers to a loss or decrease in mental function, and includes withdrawal
from others, lack of motivation, focusing on the self. Possibly a
coping mechanism to deal with the presence of Positive Symptoms (see
- Occupational Therapist
Health professional who assists in improving the life skills of the
sufferer, including the ability to handle daily requirements of an
adult (such as payment of bills, dealing with tradespeople) as well
as improving person-to-person interaction.
- Positive Symptoms
Active symptoms of psychosis that reflect a distortion of reality
and include hallucinations and delusions.
The term to describe a person who is exhibiting initial signs of the
development of schizophrenia but has not yet displayed acute symptoms.
Intervention at this stage of the illness is most beneficial for a
positive long-term prognosis and quality of life.
- Psychiatric nurse
A specialist nurse trained in the treatment and care of psychiatric
A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental
A mental health professional that specializes in the assessment and
non-medical treatment of mental disorders.
A mental phenomenon involving a loss of contact with reality.
A non-specific term that generally refers to “talk-therapy”
or counseling aimed at uncovering and understanding mental conditions
in order to better treat them.
The reoccurrence of acute symptoms after a period of relative wellness.
- Schizo-affective disorder
A condition in which sufferers experience symptoms of both schizophrenia
and mood disorder simultaneously, i.e. hallucinations and delusions
may alternate with mania and depression.
A neurotransmitter in the brain associated with mood regualtion.
- Tardive dyskinesia
Abnormal involuntary tics and movements, usually involving the hand
and face muscles. Sufferers may roll their lips or constantly make
repetitive movements of the finger tips. The phenomenon occurs as
a result of long-term use of antipsychotic drugs and is often irreversible.
- Typical antipsychotic drugs
An older class of antipsychotic medication (as opposed to atypical
antipsychotic medications, see previous blog). May also be referred
to as conventional antipsychotics.
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