Schizophrenia (skit-zo-free-nia) is a term coined by the famous Swiss Psychiatrist, Eugene Bleuler [1857 – 1939] in the year 1911 which was accepted later worldwide. It denotes a severe and complex mental illness wherein the patient loses the ability to think, feel or behave in a normal way. The patient perceives a distorted reality but is usually unaware that he is ill. Patients also suffer from delusions ie. firmly held but false beliefs and begin to act on them. As a result of their faulty thinking and perception, their behavior becomes abnormal. Nearly  6 – 7 million Indians suffer from this disorder variously described as the “Cancer of the mind” and the “Greatest disabler of youth”. It starts in the most productive period of life 15 – 45 years and is cosmopolitan in its occurrence. It cuts across barriers of gender, educational and social classes. It is now widely recognized that Schizophrenia is a brain disorder.

 

How is it caused?

The exact cause of the illness is not known as yet. Research into the illness continues; what has emerged in recent years is a bio psychosocial model of the illness.

The Biological aspect : 
Research indicates that schizophrenia is a disorder of the brain with a tendency to run in families. A certain vulnerability to the  illness is transmitted genetically; a person whose family records other cases of schizophrenia is more likely to be afflicted than one without such a history. The children of a schizophrenic parent. for example, each have about a 10% chance of developing schizophrenia as compared with 1% chance in the general population. Most scientists agree that a vulnerability to the illness is inherited, a potential that, given a certain set of factors, can lead it schizophrenia.

The Psycho-social aspect :
It is generally seen that among genetically vulnerable individuals, those who are exposed to a highly critical or stressful environment are more likely to succumb to schizophrenia than those who are not. The onset of the illness itself is often triggered by a traumatic event in the person’s life. The death of a loved one, some deeply-felt failure, rejection or disappointment can lead to schizophrenia in a susceptible individual.

It can be seen therefore that while schizophrenia is related to biochemical irregularities in the brain, external stress, family and social pressures, if intense, can work on a vulnerable individual and lead to schizophrenia. Families carrying a genetic record of past illness are especially susceptible.