Schizophrenia can affect several aspects of day-to-day life, including the ability to process information properly and interact with others. The brains of people living with schizophrenia are different, and this illness can affect a person’s ability to function in reality.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a complex biochemical brain disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and understand and interpret the world.
Some cases of schizophrenia can affect people’s education, work, and independent living. Depending on the severity of the mental illness, people with schizophrenia may be affected by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, social withdrawal, and/or disturbed thinking.
Delusions, Hallucinations, and Paranoia are Different
- Delusions are fabricated beliefs that can be terrifying to the person experiencing them.
- Hallucinations are sensory experiences (like hearing voices when there is nobody around).
- Paranoia causes the person to think that others are trying to harm them.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is undetermined, but there is speculation that genetics, brain chemistry and structure, and life events all play a part.
Some researchers propose that schizophrenia may be the result of a viral infection affecting the brain early in life, perhaps a type of mild brain damage from birth complications. It’s also thought to be the result of a combination of inherited problems and other issues that arise during a person’s development.
Schizophrenia is not caused by anything the person has done and is not the result of a weakness or how the person was raised. Extensive genetic research programs continue, hoping that specific combinations of genes will answer the question of what causes schizophrenia.
Medical professionals aren’t sure why schizophrenia affects people so differently.
- Some may only experience one episode in their lifetime, and others may experience several episodes.
- The severity of the episodes can range from mild to severe.
- Some have periods of wellness between episodes, and other people have episodes that continue for a long while.
- Some have warning signs of an upcoming episode, while others have episodes that seemingly come from nowhere.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Symptoms are not universal to everyone who has schizophrenia, and symptoms can change over time. There is no single symptom that positively identifies schizophrenia. Symptoms may appear suddenly or develop over time.
There are three categories of schizophrenia symptoms:
Symptoms occur when the person has lost touch with reality, and things have been “added” to their personality. It refers to mental experiences that are included in a person’s usual experience, such as psychosis in the form of hallucinations and delusions and thoughts or communication that are confusing.
Symptoms usually turn up first and are the early signs of schizophrenia. These symptoms are things that are “lost” from your personality, like motivation. Negative symptoms can include:
- Not caring
- Lack of expressiveness
- An inability to start and follow through with activities
- Not picking up on social cues
- Problems with relationships
- Difficulty communicating/expressing what you mean
- A lack of pleasure or interest in life
Also, negative symptoms can be confused with clinical depression.
Symptoms refer to how a person thinks and may not be obvious to themselves or others. Those living with schizophrenia often struggle with prioritizing tasks, decision making, memory loss, issues speaking clearly or making up words, and organizing thoughts.
Who Is at Risk for Schizophrenia?
About one percent of the world’s population develops schizophrenia. Schizophrenia can affect anyone, and it usually starts to affect people during their teenage years (but childhood schizophrenia is rare).
Females often experience schizophrenia later in life than males. Males tend to acquire schizophrenia in their late teens or early twenties, while females generally get diagnosed in their late twenties or early thirties. If members of your immediate family have schizophrenia, your risk also increases.
Types of Schizophrenia
There are four main subtypes of schizophrenia:
- Paranoid: paranoia may be extreme, and the person may act on it.
- Catatonic: the person shuts down emotionally, mentally, and physically.
- Undifferentiated: there are various, ambiguous symptoms, and the person may not express themselves much.
- Schizoaffective Disorder: delusional thinking is paired with other schizophrenia symptoms and also presents with a mood disorder.
Treatment for Schizophrenia
No single, simple course of schizophrenia treatment exists, but early treatment can help reduce the impact of future episodes. Without treatment, schizophrenia impairs a person’s ability to function to their potential.
Some treatment options are:
Medication is a highly recommended avenue for treatment. Antipsychotics help decrease hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia – the medication may even eliminate these symptoms entirely. There are many different kinds of antipsychotics, and it can take time to find the one that works best for you.
Counseling and Therapy
Counseling can take place individually or in a group setting. This treatment helps with issues like low mood, anxiety, and relationships. It can provide helpful skills like problem-solving, learning social skills, and setting goals.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps patients change the way they think about things and understand the steps to take to prevent relapse.
Therapies can help reduce the impact of delusions and hallucinations. Occupational therapists and social workers help with daily living, social skills, employment/volunteer training, and community activities. They also connect individuals with community supports like home care, housing, and income assistance.
Your doctor may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). They use electricity to prompt a brief and mild seizure, which may alter your brain chemistry and help symptoms.
There are both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers available, which typically require a referral from a doctor. These facilities can help with short-term treatment, medication, consultation services, and intensive treatment and support.
There are several facilities out there, so do your research to find the one that suits your needs best.
It often takes a decade for people to be properly diagnosed with schizophrenia – professionals must rule out multiple factors, including other medical conditions. It’s Important to identify schizophrenia as early as possible to help manage the illness and start mental health recovery.