Schizophrenia represents a chronic mental disorder that negatively affects a person’s perception on reality by distorting her thoughts, emotions and behavior. Because of their abnormal interpretation of reality, people with schizophrenia experience daily functioning impairment and even disablement. As a consequence, they need to undergo lifelong treatment, which has the purpose to help them draw a clear line between reality and imagination, express themselves normally and integrate into society. Some people mistake schizophrenia for split or multiple personality due to its complexity but those affected by this severe condition do not represent a danger to others. This severe type of psychosis, as doctors choose to describe it, can provoke fear, confusion and seclusion. Furthermore, when the condition makes the person to suddenly change her behavior, doctors also call it a psychotic episode. These negative feelings can easily push the respective person into the arms of depression. Specialists warn that not everyone with schizophrenia has the same symptoms, which vary in terms of severity from case to case. Therefore, some people may have just one psychotic episode while others may experience many episodes throughout their life. Apparently, specialists also exclude poor parenting or scarring childhood events from the spectrum of potential causes of schizophrenia.


Causes of Schizophrenia

Doctors do not have a clear perspective in regards to the main cause of schizophrenia, but they managed to develop several theories over time related to genetics, biology and the presence of immune disorders and viral infections.

  • According to scientists, schizophrenia runs in families being a more than unpleasant heritage from previous generations. Puberty, which consists in hormonal changes as well as very stressing situations represent triggers for the mental disorder.
  • In terms of biology, brain structure and chemistry gain extreme importance when dealing with schizophrenia because following some through research, specialists believe that issues regarding the connections development in the child’ s brain while being in the womb may lead to this mental illness in the future. Moreover, they suggest that people with schizophrenia process sensory information, including sounds and smells differently because of the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, thus causing them to experience delusions and hallucinations.
  • Apparently, immune disorders and viral infections represent environmental events considered triggers for schizophrenia. For instance, people forced to remain in the hospital due to severe infections face a higher possibility of developing this chronic mental disorder.


Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Generally, schizophrenia affects teenagers and adults meaning people with ages between 16 and 30. However, children may develop this mental illness too, in rare cases. People with schizophrenia usually start experiencing unusual episodes and changes in their behavior, which represent early signs that should not pass unnoticed. The main alarming signs of schizophrenia refer to difficulties in sleeping or concentrating, paranoia and indifference, erratic or inappropriate behavior, alterations both in appearance and personality, seclusion from society, speaking and writing peculiarly, deteriorated performance, abnormal responses or reactions to loved ones. If these characteristic symptoms last more than two weeks, the person in question or those around her must seek professional help immediately.

  1. Specialists divide symptoms of schizophrenia into three categories, namely cognitive, positive and negative.The symptoms included in the first category refer to impaired cognition, more exactly concentration and memory issues as well as mediocre educational and professional performance. Trouble focusing, poor information understanding and decisions making represent other manifestations that inevitably enter the cognitive category.
  2. The second category, which refers to positive symptoms of schizophrenia, involves obvious signs that convince doctors of its presence. These signs translate through irrational thinking and acting. Apart from nonsensical expression, meaningless writing, oblivion, distorted perception of sights and sounds, continuous repetition of the same movements such as walking in circles, which represent disorganized symptoms, the person in question presents more serious red flags like catatonia, hallucinations and delusions. Catatonia consists in physical fixation meaning that a person will remain in just one position for a much longer period than normal. Everyone knows that hallucinations involve seeing or hearing things that do not exist. A common hallucination among schizophrenics is hearing voices that command, insult them or make comments regarding their behavior. Delusions translate through strange imaginary beliefs that remain rooted in the person’s mind even when facing physical evidence that proves the contrary. For instance, the person has the feeling or the belief that everyone else complots against her.
  3. The last category, referring to negative symptoms of schizophrenia, practically means the absence of normal behavior, more specifically the lack of emotion and motivation, reduced speech and energy, lack of interest in hygiene and life, alienation from close people and social activities. Shortly, the person with schizophrenia suffers physical, mental and emotional changes that she cannot control.

Symptoms of schizophrenia in teenagers are quite deceitful because they resemble the main characteristics of people in that stage of their life. The majority of teenagers usually alienate from family and social activities, experience sleepless nights, present a lack of motivation that eventually leads to declining school performance as well as irritability and depression. For this reason, doctors encounter difficulties in distinguishing the symptoms of schizophrenia from typical signs of adolescent development. However, in comparison to schizophrenic adults, teenagers do not present delusions but they do experience visual hallucinations.


Complications of Schizophrenia

If people suffering from this severe mental illness do not seek professional treatment, they remain exposed to serious complications that could affect and even threaten their life. These complications include social isolation and aggressive behavior, health problems and self-injury, alcohol or illegal substances abuse, anxiety disorders and depression, suicide thoughts and attempts, inability to function normally in the school or work environment leading to financial and legal problems. Even if the person in question does not contact a professional, those around her have the responsibility to act in her favor and impede her from ruining her life. Offering support and encouragement to such an instable person is a crucial step in the process of helping her to come back to normal. Consequently, the loves ones must pay close attention to the specific symptoms of schizophrenia and express their concerns.


Diagnosis of Schizophrenia

Because doctors do not benefit from a specific test that will instantly help them determine the presence or absence of schizophrenia, the main goal when establishing a diagnosis of this severe mental illness is the exclusion of other disorders that manifest with similar symptoms, like bipolar disorder and even substance abuse. In certain cases, solely the acknowledgement of delusions and hallucinations, which are extremely notable and bizarre, convince specialists to provide treatment for schizophrenia. Nevertheless, in other cases, doctors need to know for sure that characteristic symptoms lasted at least for one month. When it comes to ruling out other conditions, doctors use physical examination as well as test and screenings, such as CT or MRI scan.  A professional specialized in mental health must perform a psychiatric evaluation that consists in discussing with the patient with the mission to gain useful information about his thoughts and actions, substance use or disposition to violence and suicide. While inquiring about the mental and emotional state of the patient, the specialists has the opportunity to observe his appearance, disorganized speech and behavior. Receiving an accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia as early as possible is very important because it will help the respective person manage the illness better following proper treatment including medicines and psychotherapy. While receiving proper care, the support of the loves ones will enable the patient to cope with the situation without becoming a safe target for depression.


Treatment for Schizophrenia

The proper treatment has the power to allow people with schizophrenia live as highly functional and productive individuals in society. Considering that schizophrenia represents a chronic mental illness, some patients respond very well to the treatment while others still present characteristic symptoms needing more assistance and support. However, when doctors finally succeed to control the symptoms, the patient must continue to undergo therapies and supports in order to learn how to deal with stress, develop his social skills and be able to recognize signs of relapse. For instance, the patient benefits from special programs that have the purpose to enable him integrate into society by obtaining a competitive job and self-sufficiency. Besides the respective person with schizophrenia, her family and friends also need to acquire information about the condition for providing both material and emotional support.

Shortly, the lifelong treatment for schizophrenia includes mental health medications, psychosocial treatments and brain stimulation therapies.

  • In terms of medications, doctors usually prescribe antipsychotics that have effect on brain neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine thus fighting against hallucinations and false beliefs as well as feelings of aggression and anxiety. Doctors divide antipsychotic medication in two categories, namely typical or conventional used for positive symptoms of schizophrenia and atypical or second-generation antipsychotics for both positive and negative characteristic symptoms of this chronic mental disorder. The patient can take these common drugs in the form of a pill or injection. Even though antipsychotics cannot cure schizophrenia, they relieve the symptoms improving the patient’s quality of life and their positive effect generally occurs in approximately six weeks, even though each patient responds differently. Because of this, discussing with the doctor concerning the timeframe necessary for taking these types of drugs is imperative. Some people notice improvements after several months while others need years. Antipsychotics cause potential side effects involving low blood pressure and dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision and dizziness, constipation and weight gain, restlessness and seizures, among others.
  • Psychosocial treatments provide more successful results in combination with antipsychotics and refer to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy and arts therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy allows the patient to replace deteriorated feelings and conduct with realistic and positive thoughts. A professional will coordinate the entire process, which may last a year and teach the patient to recognize delusional thinking and impede it control his actions. Each session generally lasts approximately one hour. Family therapy requires the involvement and participation of the patient’s relatives. It consists in various meetings over the course of six months where family members can acquire useful information regarding schizophrenia, discover ways to help and support the loved one suffering from this severe mental illness as well as establishing an effective solution for problems caused by schizophrenia symptoms. This also represents a great opportunity to reveal the close relationship between the patient and his relatives, who will help him to cope with the situation better. Arts therapy cultivates creative expression so that people with schizophrenia can express their feelings non-verbally thus alleviating the negative symptoms provoked by this mental disorder. The patient can choose to work with a professional individually or to join a small group.
  • Brain stimulation therapies use electricity in order to activate or inhibit the brain and consist in implanting electrodes directly in the patient’s brain or place them on his scalp. Even though these methods are less popular in comparison to medications and psychotherapies, they represent a solution for certain mental illnesses that do not respond well to other types of treatments. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) represents one of those methods and it demands brain surgery. The procedure consists in implanting a pair of electrodes in the brain and a generator in the chest that will control them stimulating the brain. Due to mixed opinions and beliefs, deep brain stimulation became a controversial approach for treating schizophrenia, despite of its efficiency proven by various studies. Nevertheless, deep brain stimulation comes along with side effects considering that the procedure can lead to sleeping difficulties, confusion and disorientation, lightheadedness, mood changes, infection as well as brain hemorrhage. Another similar procedure is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which specialists use for serious mental illnesses in special cases, for instance when the patient presents a high risk of catatonia or suicide. A specialist sedates the patient with general anesthesia while giving him a medication that will relax him during the procedure. After experiencing a painless seizure for a minute, the patient wakes up and can return to his normal activities after an hour.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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