Schizophrenia is the most common psychosis and involves abnormalities in all of the symptom domains of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-5.* The symptoms of schizophrenia include the following:
- Disorganized thinking and speech, where the person can often be incoherent.
- Seriously disorganized or abnormal motor behavior that includes catatonia, which may involve repeated or purposeless overactivity and resisting even when a health professional or other person tries to move a part of their body.
- Negative symptoms, such as lack of demonstrating feelings (a severe lack of initiative or motivation).
In schizophrenia, a couple of the five signs above have to occur for a minimum of 30 days, and a symptom has to be illusions, fantasies or confused/disordered speaking. It’s important to note that negative symptoms that impair the person’s functioning the greatest have been made an official symptom of schizophrenia.
*The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association, which lists all classifications of mental disorders.
Understanding What Schizophrenia Is
Schizophrenia occurs in about one percent of the population. About 2.2 million Americans who are 18 years old and older will develop schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a serious and incapacitating cerebrum and behavior disorder that affects a person’s comprehension, emotions, as well as how he acts. Individuals have a hard time recognizing actualities from make-believe, showing and controlling their feelings and making up their minds/being indecisive. In addition, their thinking can be scattered, and motivation to participate in activities and other everyday functions is often crippled. Sometimes individuals hear make-believe/fantasy voices and think other people can tell what they’re thinking, are taking over their thinking or making plans to hurt them.
Individuals with the disorder suffer either consistently or during intervals of time throughout their lives. They are often stigmatized and feel ashamed, because other people are not familiar with schizophrenia.
While many people think schizophrenia means that the individual has multiple personalities, this is not the case. In addition, most people with the disorder are not a threat to other people.
Causes of Schizophrenia
The exact cause of schizophrenia is still unknown, but it is a real illness with a biological basis. It is not because of bad parenting or a weakness in the person. Anybody can be afflicted with schizophrenia—it touches people in every corner of the world, all races and every culture. It can occur at any age, but it usually first shows in the teenage years or in the early 20s. Men and women are affected equally, but symptoms seem to appear earlier in men (teens or 20s) than in women (20s or early 30s). It is very unusual for schizophrenia to develop before adolescence, but it is possible for children who are over the age of five to be afflicted.
Researchers have found a number of facts that seem to play a role in schizophrenia.
- Genetics (heredity). Schizophrenia can run in families. This means that the schizophrenia is more likely to be passed on from parents to their children.
- Brain chemistry. Abnormal regulation of certain chemicals, which are called neurotransmitters, in the brain are found in individuals with schizophrenia. This is in relation to the pathways of nerve cells that affect their thinking and behavior. Since brain circuits form networks for communication in the brain, there may be problems with how the circuits operate. This may cause problems with certain receptors on nerve cells for key neurotransmitters or with other cells in the nervous system that give support to nerve cells within brain circuits. (Schizophrenia is not thought to be just a deficiency or “imbalance” of brain chemicals as was once believed.)
- Brain abnormality. Abnormal brain structure and function has been found in schizophrenic individuals. It is important to note that this abnormality is not evident in all schizophrenics and can exist in people without the disease.
- Environment. There may be environmental factors that play a role in schizophrenia. Viral infection, extensive exposure to toxins or very stressful situations may be triggers in people who have inherited a tendency toward developing the disorder. The illness is most likely to develop when hormonal and physical changes are occurring in the body (teens and young adults).
Facts About Individuals With Schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia are frightening to people with the illness. People with schizophrenia can become unresponsive, agitated or withdrawn because of them.
People with schizophrenia attempt suicide more often than individuals in the general population.
Estimates show that up to 10 percent of people with schizophrenia will commit suicide in the first 10 years of the illness (especially young men with schizophrenia).
A chronic disorder, it can be treated with medication, psychological and social treatments to improve the lives of individuals with the condition.
Treatment for Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms and decreasing the chances of their return. Treatment may include some of the following.
- Medications called antipsychotics are used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia. They do not cure the illness but work to relieve symptoms that include delusions, hallucinations and thinking problems.
- Psychosocial therapy can help with the behavioral, psychological, social and workplace difficulties that are associated with schizophrenia. Patients can learn to manage their symptoms, as well as identify the warning signs and develop strategies to prevent a relapse.
- Psychosocial therapy, such as rehabilitation, focuses on social skills and job training to help individuals function in the community and live as independently as they can. Cognitive remediation deals with learning techniques that make up for problems with information processing. Many times, this is done through drills, coaching and computer-type exercises in order to strengthen mental skills that have to do with attention, memory, planning and organization. Individual psychotherapy can help the person understand the illness and learn how to cope and work on problem-solving skills.
- Family therapy is helpful for working with members of the family to help them identify ways they can deal more effectively with the person with schizophrenia. This is also ideal in that it helps the family to be better equipped to help the individual. Group therapy and support groups are beneficial to the individual, helping him to interact with others who have the illness, as well as being a network of continuing support.