BY: TREVOR HEWITT
The rainbow elephant you’ve been watching dance in that meadow might not be real – but it offers real insight into a possible autism-like spectrum existing for schizophrenia.
Scientists are beginning to critically analyze the age-old binary idea of either being psychotic or sane.
A new analysis of existing data has found that, in fact, there may be no such dividing line.
The most comprehensive study of psychotic experiences to date has given researchers a detailed picture of how many people experience hallucinations and how frequently.
The results point to the existence of a spectrum, much like the one existing for autism. If the following is true, current psychosis treatments are in for a big change.
Our current scientific knowledge of psychosis is relatively limited, especially for something that causes people to hear, see and even feel things that aren’t real. In rare cases, psychosis can even lead people to believe that they’re dead.
The study involved researchers from all over the globe and analyzed data from the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Surveys. The research was carried out between 2001 and 2009 and involved 31,261 adults in 18 countries.
After ruling out drug- and sleep-induced psychosis, it was determined that 5.8 per cent of participants had psychotic experiences.
Experiences themselves were infrequent, with 32 per cent of sufferers having only a single episode. Another 32 per cent had two to five. The last third of respondents reported between six and over 100. “Most people have only fleeting, sporadic experiences,” says John McGrath, head researcher of the study.
The research, though noteworthy, raises an interesting question as researcher Richard Linscott notes. “[Do] we all have a bit of schizophrenia in us, or are there some people who do, and some who don’t?” One common complication with interpreting hallucinations is it’s difficult to draw a line regarding what counts as one. “It could be that what we see at the margins are these subtleties due to the language used in the questions,” Linscott says.
Psychotic experiences were most prevalent among those in middle- and high-income countries. In addition, being single or unemployed corresponded to higher rates, as did socioeconomic factors such as stress.
If psychosis exists on a spectrum, it creates a potential to redefine the stigma associated with it and other psychosis-based conditions.
Hopefully this realization of a potential spectrum leads to an increased understanding of schizophrenia and a diagnosis in the future – from both a scientific and social standpoint.