Understanding the signs of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a severe, life-long debilitating disorder of the brain that leads to an abnormal interpretation of reality. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that affects the way a person thinks, acts, and behaves, which often leads to challenges with social interactions. Those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia have a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what is fake. Additionally, their altered perception of the world can cause them to be out of touch with reality at times. This means that they may hear and see things that don’t exist, speak in strange and confusing ways, think others are out to get them, or feel like someone is constantly watching them. There are three major subtypes of schizophrenia, which are classified based upon their most prominent symptom. These include:
Paranoid schizophrenia is a form of schizophrenia in which the defining feature is absurd or suspicious ideas and beliefs. These bizarre ideas usually revolve around an organized theme or story, which remains constant over time. The person is preoccupied with one or more delusions or auditory hallucinations. People with this type of schizophrenia have a history of increasing paranoia and immense difficulties with relationships.
Disorganized schizophrenia is a form of schizophrenia that tends to appear at an earlier age than the other types and has a gradual onset, with the personal gradually withdrawing into their fantasies. This type of schizophrenia is characterized by disordered speech, disorganized behavior, and blunt or inappropriate emotions. They often have trouble taking care of themselves and completing simple tasks such as bathing or dressing themselves.
Catatonic schizophrenia is a form of schizophrenia that is mainly characterized by a disturbance in movement, which is either a decrease in motor activity or an increase in motor activity. This individual can have challenges moving, resistance to movement, inability to stop moving, abnormal movements, and the behavior of repeating things that other people say or do.
While schizophrenia is not a curable condition, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope. With the right combination of medications and treatment strategies, many people who have schizophrenia are able to live happy, healthy, and successful lives in their community.
Statistics for schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a severe chronic and disabling mental disorder that affects approximately 1% of the population, or over 2 million individuals, in the United States. This disorder affects 1.5 times as many men as women. Schizophrenia can affect children as young as six years of age and their symptoms can persist throughout adulthood.
Causes & risk factors for schizophrenia
The precise cause for the development of schizophrenia is unknown; experts believe that schizophrenia is caused by a variety of hereditary, physical, and environmental causes and risk factors. The causes for schizophrenia may include:
Genetic: This disorder has a strong genetic component. Individuals who have a family history of schizophrenia, particularly if the person who had the disorder is a parent or sibling, are at a 10% higher risk for developing the disorder compared to the 1% chance of the general population.
Physical: It’s thought that problems with naturally-produced neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate may contribute to the development of schizophrenia. Additionally, neuroimaging studies of those with schizophrenia show differences in the structure of the brain and central nervous system. Some individuals with schizophrenia have enlarged brain ventricles, which indicate a deficit in the volume of brain tissue. Additionally, there is evidence of abnormally low activity in the frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning, and decision-making.
Environmental: A lot of research done today is pointing to stress present either during pregnancy or at later stages of development as being involved in the development of this disorder. Several stress-inducing environmental factors that may be involved in schizophrenia are: Prenatal exposure to viruses and toxins, maternal malnutrition during the first two trimesters, lack of oxygen during birth, exposure to virus during infancy, early parental loss or separation, and physical or sexual abuse.
- Older paternal age
- Increased immune system activation, related to autoimmune disease or inflammation
- Usage of psychoactive or psychotropic drugs during adolescence or young adulthood
Symptoms of schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia range from mild to severe and can lead to significant impairment in daily functioning. The most common symptoms of schizophrenia may include:
Positive, more overtly psychotic symptoms:
- Delusions (belief system that has no basis in reality)
- Disorganized speech
- Disorganized behaviors
- Catatonic behaviors
- Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting things that are not real)
Negative, potentially less overtly psychotic symptoms:
- Lack of speech
- Lack of motivation
- Inhibition of facial expressions
Other symptoms of schizophrenia:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Reduced ability to carry out activities or plan
- Inability to cry or express joy
- Loss of interest in previously-pleasurable activities
- Unpredictable agitation
- Resistance to instructions
- Useless, excessive movements
- Communication impairment
- Flattened affect
- Depressed moods
- Drop in performance in work or at school
- Lack of response to communication attempts
- Not making eye contact
- Speaking without inflection or speaking in monotonous voice
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Effects schizophrenia can have
If left untreated or not properly diagnosed, the ramifications of schizophrenia can be devastating. Effects will vary based upon the presence of co-occurring disorders, symptom severity, and length of illness. They may include:
- Development of substance abuse and addiction
- Heavy smoking
- Self-harming behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Social isolation and loss of friends
- Inability to work or attend school
- Health problems related to poor lifestyle choices
- Becoming a victim of aggressive behaviors
Schizophrenia & co-occurring disorders
There are a number of different mental health disorders that can accompany schizophrenia. The most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Substance abuse
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders