Caring for Schizophrenia Patients

Schizophrenia is a severe form of mental illness that has two forms of symptoms; positive and negative. The positive symptoms include traits added to the patient's personality that should not be there such as disorganized thoughts, hearing voices, delusions, paranoia, acute hearing or sense of smell. The negative symptoms are traits that are lacking from the patient's personality such as lack of energy, motivation and feelings of hope or happiness.

A patient is diagnosed with schizophrenia through reporting of experiences to their doctor and observed behavior during treatment. There is a fine line between this diagnosis and those suffering from severe bipolar disorder or depression.
This illness effects approximately 2 million people in the United States in any given year and the cases are even between male and female patients. It hits between the ages of 15 and 25 for most patients, sometimes later for women.

While there is not yet an exact cause for Schizophrenia, doctors will study three factors in a patient as part of the diagnosis; genetics, chemical and external stressors. In looking at genetics, the family history can shed light on the situation. At the same time, doctors can prescribe medications to work on any chemical imbalances in the brain to help slow the intensity and frequency of the symptoms. Lastly, through psychotherapy, stressors or triggers can be identified that may be setting off symptoms. These are typically external factors that have impacted the patient's life on a much deeper level than imagined.

Role of the nurse in treating schizophrenia patients

A nurse specializing in psychiatric care works with mentally ill patients. This specialty field requires a person who is dedicated to the field, to their medical facility and someone who is ready for long-term relationships with their patients. Studies have shown that schizophrenic patients respond best to treatment that includes a dedicated medical team. That sense of stability results in trust from the patient and a sort of 'safe place' for them when times are tough. There are patient testimonials where they share that the success of their treatment is to having the same nurse for over 20 years. As a nurse in this field has accepted the responsibility of being an integral part of their patients' recovery, even as the years pass and the patient only stops in for medication once a month, knowing that they'll see the same nurse can make all the difference.

In addition to the important relationship with mentally ill patients, nurses in this field must have advanced skills in monitoring vital signs and reactions to medications. The types of medications used to treat schizophrenia such as clozapine and benzodiazepines can have significant side effects that might outweigh the psychological benefits. These factors need to be documented accurately and reported frequently to the assigned physician.

While being one of the more challenging nursing specialties, this field is still evolving with nursing models and theories still being created. This is an opportunity for an aspiring nurse to get involved in a field where you can help define the standards of nursing care for mentally ill patients.

by Linda Bright

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