05/14/04 — Schizophrenia like "storm inside your head"

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Schizophrenia like "storm inside your head"

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on May 14, 2004 2:00 PM

Schizophrenia is like having a storm inside your head, a Cherry Hospital physician said this week.

Dr. Alok Uppal showed pictures of waves slamming into a beach. "This is what it is like, the same as the rage of a hurricane," he said. "This is the firing of chemicals in the brain."

Unfortunately, dozens, even hundreds, of Wayne County residents don't have to imagine schizophrenia. They're living with it.

Schizophrenia, a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder, is one of the most common mental illnesses. It is estimated that 1 percent of the U.S. population will develop the disease. In Wayne County, that equals more than 1,100 people.

Dr. Carl Stanley, another Cherry physician, and Uppal talked about the disorder Wednesday at a "Lunch and Learn" seminar, sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Wayne County. Around 100 people attended.

Schizophrenia has probably been around for thousands of years. Written references to manias have been around for least 4,500 years, Uppal said. But it was only given a name in 1911. Diagnosis tools were established in the 1950s.

Still, physicians do not understand what causes schizophrenia, nor do they know whether it's one disease or several similar diseases. It does tend to run in families. Symptoms can vary.

Generally, people with schizophrenia have trouble discerning the difference between what's real and what's not. They may hallucinate or hear voices. They may have trouble with thinking logically, their memories and emotions.

But there's also a pattern of blunted emotions, a lack of energy or enthusiasm. You can think of the schizophrenic as a closed umbrella, Uppal said. "Instead of spreading out, they close down, withdraw into themselves."

Although schizophrenia affects both men and women, the disorder often appears earlier in men, usually in the late teens or early 20s, than in women, who are generally affected in the 20s to early 30s.

Both physicians have had good experience treating the disease with anti-psychotic drugs. Research is continuing to find safer, more effective drugs. Physicians can usually work with the patient to find a drug with a minimum of side effects.

The association served a hot lunch, a change from the usual boxed lunches, because May is "Mental Health Month." Also, the seminar was the last of the spring series. The programs will resume in the fall.

For more than 40 years, the Mental Health Association in Wayne County has worked to prevent mental illness, to ease the suffering of persons with mental and emotional illnesses, and to remove the stigma associated with these illnesses through education, advocacy and social action. For more information about the association, call 734-3530.