Help, my son has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia


Although schizophrenia is a severe and chronic condition, when detected and treated early, the outcome can be very encouraging. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

My 35-year-old son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia recently. What more should I know and more importantly, what should we expect?

The most recent diagnostic system of classification of mental disorders (DSM 5), dropped the category of paranoid schizophrenia but many lay and medical people, including the doctor who made the diagnosis regarding your son clearly still recognise it as a category of mental illness.

With that caveat in mind, and to illustrate the point, a story is in order. Two years ago, we saw a young man who in some ways might resemble your son. An engineer by training, he had done well in his career with many accolades for brilliant designs early in his career. He worked in several countries where his employer had several large-scale projects and he had risen to the level of country engineer responsible for ensuring that the megaprojects went on smoothly.

While on vacation in Kenya visiting his family, he complained that the neighbours were “looking at him badly”. His mother “understood” him and comforted him by telling him that the family next door was jealous of his success as a professional and he must ignore them. Their son, had, after all, achieved very little success and was a poor lawyer in a small law firm that was in any case doing badly.

A short while later, he complained to his parents that his girlfriend and her parents were talking evil of him and were in cahoots with the family next door. Once again, his mother had a “perfect” explanation. Both families went to the same church and had he not heard that there was a scandal in that church that might have implicated those family friends?

They were talking ill of him because of his success, and he must drop the girl at once. He took the advice from his mother. Things however became worse.

Soon he was complaining that his uncles and aunts were also conspirators in this evil and he refused to have anything to do with members of the extended family. They were being used by the family next door to spy on him. Yet again, his most loving mother had an explanation for their jealousy. She convinced him that all would be well with him if he kept away from their evil designs.

In time, he installed surveillance cameras all over the house to ensure that intruders were detected in a timely manner. By this time, he believed that his siblings had joined the conspiracy with neighbours and other relatives, and nobody could be trusted.

His mother became concerned when he refused to go back to work because, at the time, he felt in danger of death from his enemies who now followed him wherever he went. He refused to fly to his place of work because the pilots who would fly him there were not people he could trust.

His parents got in touch with mental health services, and he was soon hospitalised. During his stay in the hospital, his family were educated on what to expect from this diagnosis. They could tell that the symptoms of the suspicious and fearful nature had come on gradually over the months and because they did not know that they were dealing with a mental illness, they had “supported” his false beliefs out of love for him, in the process delaying the diagnosis.

Treatment had dissolved the abnormal beliefs that had disabled him socially. A year later he was still on medication, was back on track with his profession as an engineer and was back on the dating scene.

Although schizophrenia is a severe and chronic condition, when detected and treated early, the outcome can be very encouraging.

Send your mental health concerns to [email protected]

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