What is Schizophrenia: The Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Different Types
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that interferes with managing emotions, relating to others, making rational decisions, and thinking clearly. When schizophrenia is not treated correctly, it also affects its ability to function to its highest potential. Schizophrenia affects about 3.5 million people in the United States, which is approximately 1% population.
Warning Signs of Schizophrenia
It is essential to understand that there are several categories of schizophrenia, so the signs of schizophrenia are different for everyone. Some symptoms may appear abruptly, while others may not develop for several months or even years. The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia also come and go in cycles of remission and relapse. Some of the warning signs may include:
- Feeling indifferent during critical situations.
- Deterioration in work or school performance
- Personality changes
- Hearing and seeing something that is not there
- Continuous feelings of being watched
- Difficulties sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Angry, fearful and irrational behaviours towards loved ones
- Bizarre and inappropriate behaviors
- Extreme preoccupation with religion
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Changes in personal hygiene and appearance
What are Schizophrenia’s Symptoms
The symptoms, like the signs of schizophrenia, vary widely from one person to the next. There are three broad categories of schizophrenia symptoms; cognitive, negative and positive.
The cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are more subtle than the positive and negative symptoms. Mental symptoms are often difficult to recognize and are usually only detected when other tests are being performed.
The mental symptoms typically cause tremendous emotional distress and make it difficult to lead a “normal” life. Cognitive symptoms may include:
- Trouble paying attention or focusing
- Difficulties with the ability to understand provided information and using the information to make rational decisions
- Problems using information immediately after learning it
Negative symptoms are difficult to recognize because they are associated with behaviours and emotions. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia are often mistaken for signs of other conditions, such as depression. The negative symptoms may include:
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Social withdrawal
- Flat affect (no facial response to emotions)
- Extreme apathy
- Lack of initiative or drive
The positive symptoms of schizophrenia are psychotic behaviors not seen in healthy individuals. Positive signs typically come and go and are quite severe at times, while may not be noticeable at other times. Someone with positive signs may often lose touch with reality. Positive symptoms may include:
- Hallucinations, which are feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting or smelling something that does not exist. Hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination.
- Delusions are false ideas the individual may believe, such as believing they are famous or that someone is spying on them. A common delusion is that the persons thoughts and behaviours are being controlled by someone else.
- Thought disorders are disorganization in thinking.
What are the different types of schizophrenia?
There are several different types of schizophrenia, including:
- Catatonic schizophrenia means the individual is withdrawn, negative, mute, and typically assumes extremely unusual body positions. This type of schizophrenia is the least common.
- Schizoaffective disorder means the person displays symptoms of both schizophrenia and another major mood disorder, such as major depression.
- Residual schizophrenia means the individual no longer experiences hallucinations and delusions; however, they no longer have an interest in life and have no motivation.
Paranoid schizophrenia and disorganized schizophrenia are the two most common types of schizophrenia.
Paranoid schizophrenia means the person feels grandiose, extremely suspicious, persecuted, or may experience a combination of all of these emotions. With paranoid schizophrenia, the individual loses touch with reality.
The primary features of paranoid schizophrenia are hallucinations and delusions. The person may have a better ability to function and think in daily life than with other types of schizophrenia; however, someone with this type of schizophrenia is at high risk of serious complications, such as suicidal behaviors.
What is disorganized schizophrenia?
Disorganized schizophrenia is considered a severe type of schizophrenia because the individual is typically unable to carry out daily activities, such as meal preparations and personal hygiene.
Someone with disorganized schizophrenia displays speech, behaviours and thoughts that are inappropriate and that do not make sense. The individual is often difficult to understand when speaking, and if they become agitated and frustrated, it may cause them to lash out.
Although children can be diagnosed with schizophrenia, it is uncommon for them to have a psychiatric illness. It is extremely difficult to recognize a mental illness, such as schizophrenia in children during its early phases. The behaviors of children with schizophrenia typically differ from adults with this illness.
It is extremely rare for the symptoms of schizophrenia to appear before the age of 12. Children with this illness often show a delay in language and other functions well before they display psychotic symptoms.
The behaviors of children with this diagnosis typically change over time. The psychosis gradually develops and does not have the sudden psychotic break that naturally occurs in adults.
What causes schizophrenia?
Although the exact cause of schizophrenia is unclear, several theories about the cause include genetics, immune disorders, viral infections, and biology.
- Heredity (genetics) is the most common theory for the cause of schizophrenia in children.
- Environmental events may trigger the illness, such as highly stressful situations and viral infections.
- A chemical imbalance of the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), known as dopamine and serotonin.
Treatment of Schizophrenia
Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, most people with this diagnosis can lead fulfilling and productive lives with the correct treatment. Since the exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, the treatments focus on eliminating and controlling the symptoms of the illness.
Suppose you suspect someone is experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia. In that case, it is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible because early treatment typically means a better outcome. Treatments may include medications and psychosocial treatments.
Antipsychotic medications help to reduce the chemical imbalances and help to decrease the chance of a relapse. There are two primary types of antipsychotic drugs; conventional antipsychotics and atypical antipsychotics.
Conventional antipsychotics help control the illness’s positive symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, and the confusion associated with the disease. Atypical antipsychotics are beneficial for treating both the negative and the positive symptoms associated with the illness, and they typically have fewer side effects.
Antipsychotic medications have a range of common side effects, including mild side effects such as blurry vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness and constipation. There is also a risk of serious side effects such as tremors, facial ticks, trouble with muscle control and pacing.
Psychosocial treatments are typically recommended in conjunction with medications. Psychosocial treatments may include:
- Rehabilitation and recovery include case management, self-help groups, housing programs, drop-in centres, rehabilitation programs that help with life skills, employment, problem-solving and stress management.
- Therapy and counselling typically include both individual and group. The most common type of therapy is psychotherapy, often called talk therapy. This type of therapy allows the individual to talk through their experiences with a professional to help them identify their triggers, stresses and onset of symptoms.
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy typically used to treat those with schizophrenia. CBT emphasizes coping training, which means the individual is taught various ways to deal with the illness and its symptoms. For example, coping skills may include stress-relieving exercises, identifying hallucinations from reality and dealing with ongoing problems.
One of the most difficult aspects of treating schizophrenia is getting the individual to take their medications. It is common for someone with this illness not to believe they are sick, and when they are taking the medicines, they begin to feel “normal” again and assume the medications have “cured” them, so they no longer need to take them.
There is a range of myths associated with schizophrenia, including that this is an untreatable disease. Those with schizophrenia are also often thought to be violent; however, those with this illness are typically not violent.
The only risk of violence is usually associated with other factors, such as self-medicating with drugs and alcohol or combining these with prescription medications. Even with substance abuse, those with schizophrenia are typically not violent unless they are provoked.
Schizophrenia can profoundly negatively impact the person’s life, family, and community if the illness is not addressed. One of the primary concerns is the serious risk of suicide often associated with schizophrenia.
If you suspect your loved one diagnosed with schizophrenia may be suicidal, it is extremely important to seek medical attention immediately. Individuals with this illness believe they are not sick because they believe their hallucinations and delusions are real.
Therefore, they will not typically seek help when they have suicidal thoughts, especially if they are hallucinating someone or something “telling them to kill themselves”.
Family members and loved ones are typically the primary caregivers for someone with schizophrenia. Hence, the family members must seek counselling and therapy to help cope with their loved one’s illness.
When the symptoms of schizophrenia become extreme, caregivers need to recognize these signs and seek help for the person.
In most situations, those with schizophrenia will require hospitalization if they have been off their medications for a long period. Hospitalization is essential for monitoring the behaviors, reducing the risk of suicidal behaviors and helping the person get back on a routine of medications and therapy.