Schizophrenia is a frequently misunderstood psychotic disorder; psychotic disorders are distinguished by the individual’s “break” from reality. The term itself comes from the Greek words for ”split mind”. For this reason, schizophrenia is often mistaken for Dissociative Identity Disorder, more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD will be addressed in a separate article). The two diagnoses are by no means interchangeable. Schizophrenia is among the most severe and debilitating forms of psychological disorders, and itself has multiple forms. Until recent years, Schizophrenia was classified in 5 types: Paranoid, Catatonic, Disorganized, Undifferentiated, and Residual. This disorder has now become recognized as a “spectrum” disorder, since the manifestations among patients were prone to change or were not clearly one type versus another, according to the DSM-5 (the predominant diagnostic tool and classification system).
Symptomology: Five key symptoms of Schizophrenia are: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms. The number and/or combination of symptoms needed for diagnosis is irrelevant for this writing. Delusions most commonly are thought processes in which the individual believes he or she is either being persecuted, or conversely, that they are of lofty status (delusions of grandeur).
Hallucinations may be of several types. Some persons may hear voices “inside their heads” (auditory hallucinations); these voices may tell them to do things which may pose a risk to themselves or others. In some cases these voices tell the individual that outside forces or persons are plotting against them, trying to harm them or reading their thoughts. Some individuals may see things, people, etc. that are not there or are misperceived (visual hallucinations). These too may pose a threat to the individual; they may believe someone has actually performed a harmful act on them. They may smell odors others do not (olfactory), feel fingers/hands touching them that are not there (tactile). It is important to be aware that to the person living with Schizophrenia, these hallucinations are real. They are unable to distinguish reality from fantasy/hallucinations. Since these individuals are able to express themselves and their emotions fairly effectively, they may seem typical until these dysfunctional thoughts, ideas or hallucinations are expressed aloud or acted upon. These are symptoms commonly associated with the former paranoid type.
Other people living with Schizophrenia may exhibit speech or behavior which makes no sense to the observer. Emotions that are inappropriate to a situation may be expressed, such as laughing aloud when told of a death. These are examples of disorganized speech and disorganized behavior. Others may be motionless for hours or days; this is catatonic behavior. Flat affect, or lack of expressed emotion, is an example of negative symptoms.
Treatment: Schizophrenia may be treated to varying degrees, though not cured, using antipsychotic medications, such as Haldol, Risperdol, Clozaril, to name only a few. Side effects are common but diminish with time, and include sun sensitivity, drowsiness, headache, etc. Long term use may lead to Tardive Dyskinesia, a condition which manifests as uncontrolled muscle movements and tremors. Weight gain and symptoms of Tardive Dyskinesia, some patients may stop taking their medications.
Relevance to National Paranormal Society: As you read the information above, you no doubt noticed some symptoms which could be misinterpreted as paranormal activity. Most notably, auditory hallucinations could be interpreted as sprit voices; visual hallucinations as apparitions. Likewise, phantom odors and feelings of fingers/hands touching a person are common claims of paranormal activity. Unintelligible speech, inappropriate expression of emotion, or disorganized behavior all have potential to be mistaken for demon possession.
Remember that not all persons living with Schizophrenia are easily recognized as such. Due to the stigma associated with mental health disorders, the individual is unlikely to divulge their diagnosis or whether they are on or off their medications. When objectively investigating claims of paranormal activity, it is helpful to keep this information in mind. In some cases it is necessary to gently ask a client about their psychological history, request a client be seen to rule out any psychological influence on his or her perception of activity. Done properly, this can and has been a productive part of objective investigating and debunking.