This is precisely the problem with untreated anxiety. It breeds more anxiety. Normally, research and information can be good for learning and understanding. With most any other problem, learning more is a good thing. However, that is not necessarily true for people with untreated anxiety. They tend to become more anxious as they learn more information about their condition. Perhaps that’s because anxious people tend to fear the worst-case scenarios. They tend to latch onto extreme ideas which then become a source of even more anxiety. In this case, perhaps less information is better than more information.
As I’ve said many times, in this column, one of the most common questions that I receive comes from persons with untreated anxiety, who research anxiety and come to believe that their symptoms are indicative of schizophrenia. It is one of the most common fears among people with anxiety. That is possibly because schizophrenia is a very severe and misunderstood disorder.
Schizophrenia and anxiety are two very different disorders. Schizophrenia is a thought disorder that involves having breaks with reality. Having a break with reality means that you can no longer determine the difference between reality and non-reality. It’s a very disconcerting and frightening experience. Only about 1% of the population has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Anxiety is a mood disorder. Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), for instance, experience chronic worry about many issues. This can be an unpleasant state of being since the anxiety tends to be fairly broad and consistent. Uncontrolled anxiety tends to worsen over time. This out-of-control feeling can make people believe that they have a more extreme condition like schizophrenia.
People with schizophrenia hear voices and see things that aren’t there. The voices they hear are not their own. People with anxiety tend to hear their own voice. People with schizophrenia hear the voices of other people. That’s a major and important distinction. If you’re hearing a voice that is your own but it’s simply saying harsh things about you, that’s likely a sign of anxiety. If you’re hearing voices outside yourself, voices that you don’t recognize, who are saying mean things about you, that may be indicative of schizophrenia.
Nothing you’ve written in your letter would indicate schizophrenia. Please do not mistake that statement with a diagnosis. It is impossible to provide a diagnosis over the Internet which is why I always recommend an in-person evaluation. Much of what you’re concerned about has to do with whether or not you love your girlfriend. That type of worry is more consistent with anxiety than schizophrenia. If, you thought that your girlfriend was an alien from another planet, who was here to harm you, then you might be demonstrating ideas consistent with schizophrenia but that is not the nature of your issues. You are concerned about things that seem wholly in the realm of anxiety and not schizophrenia.
The best solution to this problem is to consult, in-person, a professional. That can make all the difference. Professionals receive training about how to treat mental health problems like the one you have described. Anxiety is something they know how to treat. They can help you. I hope that my response convinces you to seek professional help. There’s no reason to suffer with treatable problems. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle