Learn About Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a group of severe brain disorders in which people interpret reality in an abnormal way. This disorder can result in a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that can make it extremely difficult to think clearly, logically, and rationally. Individuals suffering with this disorder may not always be able to tell the difference between what is real and what is not real. They may hear voices that don’t exist and believe people can read their minds or control their thoughts. Additionally, these individuals may think that others are out to get them, leading to constant fear, social withdrawal, and irritation.
Schizophrenia not only affects the individual, but has negative effects on their family, friends, and community as well. Many individuals suffering from schizophrenia have trouble keeping a job or taking care of themselves, so they tend to rely on others for help. Additionally, it can be difficult to get an individual to stick to a medication regime, even more so if they don’t believe they are sick.
Since this illness may cause unusual, inappropriate, and often unpredictable and disorganized behavior, people who are not effectively treated are often stigmatized and made the targets of prejudice. Schizophrenia is often mischaracterized as an untreatable disease that is associated with violent behavior, which has led to the development of many untrue stereotypes. Most individuals diagnosed with this disorder are not violent. Although schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment, when engaging in treatment, schizophrenia can be managed. However, as every individual is different, the course of the illness and treatment can differ.
In the U.S. it has been estimated that about 1% of the adult population suffers from schizophrenia. While prevalence estimates indicate equal rates in men and women, men tend to show a younger age of onset than women and women display a less severe course. The typical age of onset ranges from 16-30. It is relatively rare for someone to first develop the condition over the age of 45. While it has long been believed the childhood onset schizophrenia is extremely rare, there is growing awareness that children present with different symptom patterns than adults.
Schizophrenia and Co-Occurring Disorders
There are a number of disorders that have been shown to co-occur with schizophrenia. These include:
- Substance abuse –Over 50% of those with schizophrenia have tobacco use disorders and many use illicit or prescription drugs in an effort to self-medicate.
- Anxiety disorders (panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, phobias)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
Causes and Risk Factors for Schizophrenia
It is not known what causes this disorder, but researchers believe that it is a combination of genetics and environment that leads to the development of this disease. Some potential causes that have supporting evidence include:
Genetic: It has long been recognized that schizophrenia runs in families. While the prevalence rate for the condition is 1% in the general population, the rate increases to 10% for individuals with a first-degree relative who has the disorder. Research has also found that individuals with schizophrenia have higher rates of genetic mutations that disrupt normal brain development. Finally, research has discovered a specific gene that may be linked to the development of schizophrenia, causing important chemicals in the brain to malfunction and lead to disruptions in the development of higher mental functions.
Brain Chemicals: Problems with naturally occurring brain chemicals, such as the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, may also contribute to schizophrenia.
Brain Structure: Neuroimaging studies have shown differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of individuals with schizophrenia.
Environmental Factors: Certain environmental factors such as exposure to viruses, toxins, or malnutrition in the womb have been connected to the development of this disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia generally develop slowly over a number of months or years. The symptoms of schizophrenia are usually divided into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive. Some symptoms experienced may include:
Positive symptoms: These symptoms reflect an excess or distortion of normal functions.
- Disorganized behavior
Negative symptoms: These symptoms refer to an absence of characteristics of normal function. They may appear with or without positive symptoms.
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Loss of motivation
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Appearing to lack emotion
- Reduced ability to plan or carry out activities
Cognitive symptoms: These symptoms involve problems within the thought process. These symptoms are usually the most disabling because they can interfere with an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.
- Problems with making sense of information
- Memory problems
- Difficulty paying attention
- Thought disorder
Effects of Schizophrenia
Left untreated, schizophrenia can result in severe emotional, behavioral, and health problems. Additionally, it can lead to legal and financial problems that affect every aspect of life. Some effects can include:
- Substance abuse
- Family conflict
- Inability to work or go to school
- Heart disease
- Health problems as a result of anti-psychotic medications