What is Schizophrenia?

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Schizophrenia is a mental health condition which influences the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Due to schizophrenia’s severity and persistence, those who suffer from the condition tend to seem as though they’ve lost sense of reality.

People with schizophrenia have reported visualizing hallucinations or hearing voices which aren’t really around. Symptoms as such tend to have a disabling effect on the person with the illness. In turn, it can be very difficult for a loved one to reach out and help someone with the disease.

Mental illness can be very confusing for both those suffering and those trying to help others. A variety of questions naturally arise when trying to take it all in. What kind of symptoms can appear? What are the signs of the condition? How can I find proper treatment?

This blog seeks to tell you everything you need to know about schizophrenia. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Signs and Symptoms

People with schizophrenia usually don’t begin feeling symptoms of the illness until they’re between the ages of 16 and 30. There are rare cases of children developing the condition.

Symptoms of schizophrenia affect people in 3 different ways. These are:

Positive Symptoms

A set of symptoms known to cause psychotic conduct not seen in healthy people. These symptoms represent what makes a person with schizophrenia lose touch with reality. They include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Movement irregularities (agitation)
  • Thought irregularities (dysfunctional thinking)

Negative Symptoms

A set of symptoms which disassociate a person with schizophrenia from normal emotions and conduct. They include:

  • Difficulty starting and sustaining activities
  • Reduced expression of emotions through the face or voice
  • Reduced pleasure in day-to-day life
  • Reduced speaking

Cognitive Symptoms

A set of symptoms which changes memory and other areas of thinking. Some people with schizophrenia feel these symptoms stronger than others. They include:

  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Difficulty with “working memory” (ability to use information right after learning of it)
  • Improper “executive functioning” (ability to comprehend information and use it for decision making)

Risk Factors

Mental health professionals are still studying the risk factors of schizophrenia. However, their research has led us to understand certain areas the mental health condition stems from. These include:

  • Brain ChemistryFrom research, scientists have found an imbalance within the brains of people with schizophrenia. Particularly, in neurotransmitters – the cellular communication network responsible for releasing chemicals such as dopamine and glutamate. Though scientists aren’t entirely sure how the brain chemistry reaches such a state, we are aware that brain development before birth plays a major role.
  • Environment – There’s a clear understanding that a person’s environment can decide whether or not they develop schizophrenia. What remains unclear is exactly the type of environment which triggers the condition. What scientists do know is a psychosocial environment can play a strong role. They’ve discovered is certain viruses can lead to the illness. Furthermore, there could be a multitude of problems at birth, including malnutrition.
  • Genetics – If schizophrenia runs in the family, a child is more likely to be born with the condition. Still, that’s not to say all people with schizophrenia have always have a family member who suffers too. The role of genetics is complicated as there are a number of genes which can increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder.

Diagnosis

There are some people who might feel a symptom of schizophrenia but don’t actually have the disorder. In order to receive a diagnosis, you will need to show at least two of the following symptoms. You will also need to feel these for the majority of the month for a 6 month period. These symptoms include:

  • Catatonic or coma-like daze
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech and behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Strange and/or hyperactive conduct

If you still believe you are suffering from schizophrenia, it’s important to seek out care from a doctor or psychiatrist. You’ll want to notify this person of everything you’ve been noticing which can relate to schizophrenia. From there, make sure to ask questions which give you advice on how to better yourself in the coming weeks.

Still, in order to receive an official diagnosis, you will need to be evaluated through a medical exam. This requires you sharing information about your family history, how you’ve been behaving recently, and if you’ve ever before been hospitalized for a medical condition.

After the doctor is able to track your symptoms, they will decide whether or not you have schizophrenia. There’s a chance you can be suffering from another mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder.

It’s important to note, a doctor may ask for tests and scans in order to confirm you’re suffering from schizophrenia. These can include:

  • Blood or urine tests (primarily to check for substance abuse)
  • Cognitive tests
  • Computed tomography (CT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Open-ended tests (such as an inkblot test)
  • Personality tests

Related Disorders

People who believe they suffer from schizophrenia may actually be suffering from a related disorder. Sometimes people show signs of a mood disorder which hosts a list of symptoms similar to schizophrenia. The way doctors tell if someone is suffering from either schizophrenia or a mood disorder is by how long their symptoms persist.

These mood disorders include:

  • Schizoaffective Disorder – A combination of psychotic symptoms (similar to schizophrenia) along with depression (also known as major depressive disorder) or bipolar disorder. People with schizoaffective disorder tend to feel extremely down in comparison to people with schizophrenia. However, they may also feel episodes of hyperactivity along (either high-energy or high irritability) along with very low episodes. In juxtaposition to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder is very rare.
  • Schizophreniform – If symptoms associated with schizophrenia appear and have lasted for more than one month, but less than six, you’ll be diagnosed with schizophreniform. Most people with the condition proceed to have schizophrenia. Symptoms only go away for about 1/3 of people with this illness. You can look at schizophreniform as early schizophrenia.

In order to get a clear sense of whether or not you suffer from a related disorder, you’ll want to speak to a medical professional.

Schizophrenia Treatment

As mentioned, there still needs to be a lot of research done in order to understand that causes of schizophrenia. Due to this, all treatment options seek to eliminate symptoms rather than the initial triggering of the disease.

There are two ways in which schizophrenia is treated; medication and various forms of therapy.

Antipsychotic Medication

There are a number of antipsychotic medications taken in a variety of ways, including a pill or liquid form taken daily and injections given once or twice a month.

There are multiple antipsychotic medications and it may take some experimenting to find out which are the best for you. It’s important for you to talk the matter over with your doctor in order to figure out the best medication (or medication combination) for your needs.

Typical antipsychotic medications include:

  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine
  • Fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Perphenazine (Trilafon)
  • Thioridazine (Mellaril)
  • Thiothixene (Navane)
  • Trifluoperazine (Stelazine)

There are also some newer types of medication often referred to as “second generation” or “atypical” antipsychotics. These include:

  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Aripiprazole Iauroxil (Aristada)
  • Asenapine (Saphris)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Iloperidone (Fanapt)
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Paliperidone (Invega Sustenna)
  • Paliperidone palmitate (Invega Trinza)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)

These medications come with a list of side effects. These vary from person to person, body type, and gender. Side effects include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Growth of breast tissues in both men and women.
  • Higher levels of the hormone prolactin.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle.
  • Irregular mood.
  • Irregular sex drive.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Low white blood cell count.
  • Nausea.
  • Seizures.
  • Sexual problems.
  • Tardive dyskinesia.
  • Trouble keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  • Weight gain.

If you are led to believe you’re feeling any side effects from psychotic medications, make sure to talk to your doctor.

Psychosocial Treatments

Once you’ve discovered the right medication (or medication combination), your doctor will suggest psychosocial treatments. The purpose of these therapies is to teach you how to cope with symptoms, through this knowledge, better face everyday challenges produced by schizophrenia. The purpose is for you to fulfill your lifetime goals, including work and attending school.

Common psychosocial treatments include:

  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) – by going off teamwork, ACT allows people suffering from schizophrenia to integrate into the community. Within an ACT team, you may find a psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, and other counselors. Their goal is to keep you from being homelessness, relapsing symptoms, and hospital admissions. They will also work to reduce your medication.
  • General Health Interventions – People with schizophrenia are more at risk of health problems such as obesity and heart disease. Furthermore, they’re more likely to become smokers. Due to this, weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs have been set up as a part of psychosocial treatment.
  • Psycho-Education – Programs are set up to teach people more about schizophrenia in order for them to receive a better comprehension of the condition.
  • Psychotherapy – Commonly known as “talk therapy”, psychotherapy is a way for people with schizophrenia to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and behavior with a therapist. The most common psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Social Skills Training – Many people with schizophrenia feel as though they can’t develop interpersonal relationships. This form of psychosocial therapy teaches these skills through roleplaying. For example, you may find yourself with a teacher practicing small talk and keeping eye contact.
  • Social Support Groups – While you develop your social skills, you’ll want to practice them. Within a group of people also suffering from schizophrenia, you’ll have the ability to do so while receiving help and advice.
  • Substance Abuse Intervention – People with schizophrenia have a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol. Since substance abuse can interfere with treatment, it’s in the best interest to provide an intervention for someone also suffering from schizophrenia. From there, it’s important to go to a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
  • Supported Employment – Most people with schizophrenia have the ability to obtain employment. However, since people of the disorder have trouble with social skills, it can be very difficult.

Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC)

Schizophrenia always begins somewhere and works its way to long-term disability. Due to this, the NIMH Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) has started a research project which looks into providing coordinated specialty care in the earliest stages of the condition. They do so by integrating the following areas of schizophrenia treatment:

  • Antipsychotic medication
  • Case management
  • Employment services
  • Family involvement
  • Psychosocial therapies
  • Supported education

By providing these services in the early ages of schizophrenia, the hope is to reduce the likelihood of symptoms worsening in the long-run.

What Can I Do to Help a Loved One?

There’s a lot of difficulties when it comes to helping someone with schizophrenia. Due to the psychosocial tendencies mentioned above, simply talking to someone with the condition has its complications. You may find yourself with responses of abnormal or false statements.

As you make your attempt to help your loved one beat their schizophrenia, it’s vital to gain as much knowledge on the condition as possible. With this knowledge, you will be best prepared for any potential outcome.

When helping a loved one with schizophrenia, there are a number of things you should do:

  • Acknowledge their differences from normal thinking and behavior.
  • Don’t tolerate dangerous and/or inappropriate behavior.
  • Keep a respectful, supportive, and kind attitude.
  • Keep in mind, their beliefs and/or hallucinations appear extremely real to them.
  • Look out for support groups within your area.
  • Make sure they receive treatment and encourage them to continue seeking it.

Join a Study

There is a lot of research within the medical community which seeks to better understand, detect, prevent, and/or treat schizophrenia. Through clinical studies, new medication, surgical procedures, and therapies are under development to help future generations.

If you will like to play a role in the progress of mental health, you can join a study. Research of the NIH is performed in Bethesda, Maryland at the NIH Clinical Center. After applying, you’ll receive a phone interview. If accepted, you will have to make an appointment and meet up with one of their clinicians.

For more information on this research, visit Join a Study: Adults – Schizophrenia.

Your Questions

This article sought to provide you with as much information on schizophrenia as possible.

Still have more questions?

Feel free to ask them in the comments section below. We also invite those with more information on or personal experience with schizophrenia to leave to leave a comment. We try to reply to all legitimate comments in a prompt and personal manner.

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