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Capozzi's schizophrenia is complex challenge

Schizophrenia, the disease that has dogged Anthony J. Capozzi for his whole adult life, is a chronic and severe brain disorder that affects about 2.4 million Americans 18 and older.

The word is from Greek, meaning split mind, which is partly why so many people confuse the illness with having multiple personalities.

Schizophrenia is actually very different. It interferes with a person's ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, to manage emotions, to make decisions and to relate to others, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Most people with schizophrenia must deal with it as an ever-present or episodic illness throughout their lives. Often, they experience terrifying thoughts, such as hearing voices others don't hear or imagining plots to harm them or their loved ones.

Symptoms generally fall into three categories, from hallucinations to inability to express emotions to difficulty organizing one's life. As a result, many schizophrenics face challenges holding a job or caring for themselves.

The first signs of the disorder typically emerge in the teenage years or early 20s, often later for females, the National Institute of Mental Health says.

The causes of schizophrenia remain unknown, although research suggests that genetics, the environment and an imbalance in the brain's complex chemical reactions play roles.

"It's a biological brain disorder, but the tendency has to be there to begin with," said Mary Kirkland, president of the Buffalo and Erie County chapter of the national alliance.

Without a known specific cause for the disease, treatments today focus on relieving symptoms. These include antipsychotic medications and counseling from a therapist. Many people with schizophrenia improve enough with treatment to lead independent lives.

Groups such as the national alliance also offer educational courses and other help to family members, who often form the critical support networks.


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