What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe and most of the time a chronic mental illness that affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. People suffering from schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality and hinders a person’s ability to think clearly. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling and make it difficult for someone to manage emotions and relate to others.
How Can I Help Someone I Know with Schizophrenia?
Supporting a loved one with schizophrenia can be difficult and it can be hard to understand how to respond to someone who is unable to differentiate reality from the disease. It is important to understand that schizophrenia is a biological illness, but there are different treatments to help manage it.
Here are some things you can do to help your loved one:
- Encourage them to get treatment and seek medical help
- Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them
- Manage your stress and help them to learn how to manage theirs
- Be respectful, supportive, and kind without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behavior
- Pay attention to triggers
- Help them to avoid alcohol and drugs
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia:
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30. In rare cases, children may develop schizophrenia too. It is usually very difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in teens.
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.
Positive symptoms: “Positive” symptoms are psychotic behaviors not generally seen in healthy people. People with positive symptoms may “lose touch” with some aspects of reality. Symptoms include:
- Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
- Movement disorders (agitated body movements)
Negative symptoms: “Negative” symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors, such as being emotionally flat or being disconnected. Negative symptoms can often times be confused with clinical depression. These symptoms include:
- “Flat affect” (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
- Reduced feelings of joy in everyday life
- Difficulty starting or following through with activities
- Reduced speaking
Cognitive symptoms: For some patients, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle, but for others, they are more severe and patients may notice changes in their memory, such as being unable to organize their thought pattern. Symptoms include:
- Poor “executive functioning” (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)
- Trouble focusing, unable to complete tasks
- Problems with “working memory” (the ability to use information immediately after learning it)
- Lack of insight
There are several factors that contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia.
Genetics and Environment: Having a history of family psychosis greatly increases the risk of developing schizophrenia, and we all know that schizophrenia sometimes runs in families. However, there are many people who have schizophrenia who don’t have a family member with the disorder and conversely, many people with one or more family members with the disorder who do not develop it themselves.
Scientists believe that many different genes may increase the risk of schizophrenia, but that no single gene causes the disorder by itself. One of the highest risks of acquiring schizophrenia is with identical twins, if one twin is diagnosed with schizophrenia, the other twin has a 50% chance of being diagnosed with it as well.
Scientists also believe that interactions between genes and someone’s environment are factors for schizophrenia to develop. Environmental factors may involve:
- Exposure to viruses
- Malnutrition before birth
- Problems during birth
- Psychosocial factors
Different Brain Chemistry and Structure: Scientists think that an imbalance in the complex, interrelated chemical reactions of the brain involving the neurotransmitters, dopamine and glutamate, plays a role in schizophrenia.
Some experts also think problems during brain development before birth may lead to faulty connections. The brain also undergoes major changes during puberty, and these changes could trigger psychotic symptoms in people who are vulnerable due to genetics or brain differences.
Substance Misuse: Studies have shown that taking mind-altering substances during the teenage years and young adulthood can increase the risk of schizophrenia. A growing body of evidence indicates that abusing hallucinogens, or amphetamines can increase the risk of psychotic incidents and the risk of ongoing psychotic experiences. The younger and more frequent the use, the greater the risk.
Schizophrenia symptoms include distorted thoughts, hallucinations, and feelings of paranoia. Other helpful remedies for treating a loved one with Schizophrenia include: psychotherapy for treatment, meeting with a psychiatrist to evaluate symptoms and medical history so they can prescribe the appropriate medications, CBT therapy sessions and a healthy diet.