Learn About Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe disabling brain disorder characterized by difficulties in the ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. Additionally, this disorder causes people to experience an abnormal interpretation of reality. Those with schizophrenia may hear voices that others don’t and may believe that others are trying to control their thoughts or are plotting to harm them. These symptoms can leave an individual feeling terrified causing them to withdrawal or act with extreme aggression.
Schizophrenia is the most chronic and debilitating of the major mental illnesses, leading individuals to face challenges functioning at work, in society, at school, and within interpersonal relationships. Schizophrenia differs in severity from person to person – some only have one psychotic break during their lifetime while others may experience a slow decline in functioning with little recovery between full-blown psychotic episodes. While most individuals will have to cope with symptoms of schizophrenia throughout their lives, proper medication and support can provide some relief allowing them to lead rewarding and meaningful lives.
Schizophrenia affects approximately 1% of the population, or over 2 million people in the United States. It’s been estimated that 40% of people with schizophrenia are untreated each year.
Causes and Risk Factors for Schizophrenia
Researchers have not determined one exact cause for the development of schizophrenia, instead it is believed to be the result of a number of genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors working together. The most commonly cited causes and risk factors for schizophrenia include:
Genetic: It commonly believed that there is a heredity component for schizophrenia. People who have a family member with schizophrenia are at higher risk for developing the disorder. While schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the population, it occurs in 10% of those with a relative with the disorder. However, many people who develop schizophrenia do not have a family history of the disorder.
Physical: Researchers have found that an imbalance in the interrelated, complex, interconnected brain reactions, involving dopamine and glutamate (both neurotransmitters), play a role in schizophrenia. Additionally, structures in the brain, such as the ventricles, look different in those who have schizophrenia.
Environmental: Scientists believe that prenatal exposure to toxins, maternal malnutrition, or various viruses may lead to the development of schizophrenia. Additionally, birth trauma may increase the risk for developing the disorder.
- Child abuse – sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect
- Being the victim of bullying
- Being male
- Increased immune system activation
- Psychoactive or psychotropic drug use in the teen years and young adulthood
- Death of a parent during childhood
- Parental poverty as a child
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia tend to begin between the ages of 16 and 30 with diagnosis rarely occurring in people over the age of 45. Common signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are broken down into three broad categories and may include:
Positive symptoms: These are psychotic behaviors that are not seen in healthy individuals. These symptoms often come and go and can lead an individual to lose touch with reality.
- Hallucinations – things a person hears, sees, smells, or feels that no one else experiences.
- Delusions – false, fixed beliefs that an individual continuous to believe even after being provided proof that the delusions are wrong.
- Thought disorders- unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking.
- Disorganized thinking which occurs when a person has trouble organizing thoughts or connecting them in logical manner.
- Thought blocking- occurs when a person stops talking in the middle of a thought because he or she feels the though the thought had been taken from his or her head.
- Movement disorders- agitated body movements.
- Repetition of certain gestures
- Catatonia- a state in which a person doesn’t move or respond to others.
Negative symptoms are disruptions in normal emotions and behaviors that may include:
- Flat affect
- Lack of ability to begin or sustain activities
- Lack of pleasure in everyday life
- Speaking very little, even when forced to interact
- Neglecting personal hygiene
Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle and often remain undetected as a feature of schizophrenia. Some of these symptoms include:
- Poor executive function
- Challenges focusing
- Difficulty paying attention
- Problems with working memory
- Challenges leading a normal life
- Emotional distress
Effects of Schizophrenia Disorder
If left untreated, schizophrenia can cause extreme physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. Through prompt diagnosis and adhering to a detailed treatment plan an individual may be able to lead a more fulfilling, successful life. Long-term effects of untreated schizophrenia may include:
- Conflicts in familial relationships
- Inability to work or go to school
- Social isolation
- Being the victim of aggressive behaviors by others
- Substance abuse and addiction
Schizophrenia and Co-Occurring Disorders
Schizophrenia often occurs with another mental health disorder. The most common co-occurring, comorbid disorders include:
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Schizotypal personality disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder