What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic psychological disorder that affects a person’s ability to feel, think, and behave clearly. It affects less than one percent of the United States population. When schizophrenia is triggered, symptoms can include:
- Incoherent speech
- Lack of emotional response
- Social isolation
- Elevated mood
- Thought disorder
- Mental confusion
However, with treatment, most signs and symptoms of schizophrenia will greatly improve and the likelihood of a recurrence can be reduced. The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misguided beliefs about mental disease. Schizophrenia does not mean split personality or multiple-personality.
While there is no cure for schizophrenia, research is leading to innovative and safer treatments. Research has also shown that schizophrenia affects men and women fairly equally but may have an earlier offense in males. Most people with schizophrenia are not any more violent or dangerous than people in the general population. While limited mental health resources in the community may lead to homelessness and frequent hospitalizations, it is a misguided belief that people with schizophrenia end up homeless or living in hospitals. Most people with schizophrenia can live with friends and relatives, in group homes, and on their own.
When the disease is triggered and active, it can be characterized by episodes in which the person is unable to distinguish between reality and delusion. Just like any illness, the severity, duration, and frequency of symptoms can vary; however, in persons with schizophrenia, old people experience less severe schizophrenia symptoms. The use of alcohol or illicit drugs and stressful situations tend to increase symptoms. There are three main categories of schizophrenia symptoms:
- Positive symptoms: positive symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucination (seeing, hearing, and smelling things that no one else does), confused thought and disorganized speech, trouble concentrating, and movement disorder
- Negative symptoms: negative symptoms include the inability to show emotions, apathy, difficulty talking, racing thoughts, and inattention to social or cognitive input
- Disorganized symptoms: bizarre behavior or abnormal movement, disordered speech, disturbance in emotional expression, bizarre smile, and laughter, and talking to oneself.
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually first appear in early adulthood and must persist for at least six months for a diagnosis to be made. Men often experience initial symptoms in their late teens or early 20s while women tend to show first signs of the illness in their 20s and early 30s. More devious signs may surface earlier, including troubled relationships, poor work performance, and a disorganized daily lifestyle.
The main cause of schizophrenia has not been determined, but researchers believe that a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and environment contributes to the development of the psychological disorder. Problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate, may contribute to schizophrenia. Neuroimaging studies show differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia. While researchers aren’t completely convinced about the significance of these changes, they indicate that schizophrenia is a brain disease.
Risk factors: certain factors have been known to increase the risk of developing or triggering schizophrenia, these factors include:
- Family history. Having parents or grandparents in your bloodline that has been diagnosed with schizophrenia increases your risk of also having the psychological disorder
- Taking mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) drugs during teen years and young adulthood
- Complications during pregnancy or birth are also linked to schizophrenia
There are several complications attached to schizophrenia if not treated at the early stages, some of these complications include:
- Suicide, suicide attempts, and thoughts of suicide
- Aggressive behavior, although it’s uncommon
- Inability to work or attend school
- Anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Abuse of alcohol or other drugs, including nicotine
- Financial problems and homelessness
- Social isolation and depression
- Health and medical problems
- Being victimized
People with schizophrenia often lack awareness that their difficulties stem from a mental disorder that requires medical attention. So it often falls to family or friends to get them help. If your loved one poses a danger to self or others or can’t provide his or her food, clothing, or shelter, you may need to call 911 or other emergency responders for help so that your loved one can be evaluated by a mental health professional.
There’s no sure way to prevent schizophrenia, but following the treatment plan can help prevent relapses or worsening of symptoms. Also, researchers hope that learning more about risk factors for schizophrenia may lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment. After the symptoms of schizophrenia are controlled, various types of therapy can continue to help people manage the illness and improve their lives