Written By Sarah Pan
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where individuals perceive reality differently. It can affect how they think, feel, or act. Individuals with schizophrenia often seem out of touch with reality. In fact, they may experience hallucinations, delusions, or disordered thinking on a daily basis. For example, a person with schizophrenia may see images that are not there, experience paranoia (i.e. believe everyone is “out to get them”), or have disorganized speech. They may also have negative symptoms, which is a reduced ability to function normally. Withdrawing from friends, losing interest in activities, as well as lacking the ability to experience pleasure are other symptoms.
Typically, symptoms of schizophrenia emerge from late teenage years to early thirties. The symptoms also tend to appear earlier in Males compared to Females, and very few children or adults over 45 are diagnosed.
While the causes of schizophrenia are unclear, it is suggested that a combination of genetics, environment, and birth chemistry are the causes. Schizophrenia can run in families, and studies show many genes can cause this mental disorder, but there is no particular gene. Environmental factors include poverty, exposure to viruses or nutritional problems before birth, and a stressful environment. In addition, researchers have found excessive amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the brains of people diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is possible these differences in brain structure begin developing before birth. Certain changes of the brain during puberty can cause symptoms to appear in individuals under these risk factors.
Treatment for schizophrenia occurs in various ways. As the causes of schizophrenia are still being researched, treatment focuses on improving symptoms and daily function.
These treatments include antipsychotic medications, which are taken daily in pills or liquids. However, these medications may bring unfavorable side effects, such as weight gain, restlessness, and drowsiness. This encourages the patient to stop taking the medicine, which is dangerous and should be discussed with a doctor beforehand.
Various psychosocial treatments help address the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. These teach and improve coping skills for the challenges of this mental disorder. Educational programs for friends and loved ones increase understanding of the disorder, and the treatment options, which allows them to offer better support. Other methods include CSC (Coordinated Specialty Care), and ACT (Assertive Community Treatment).
How to Help:
If you see these symptoms in yourself, or in a loved one, seek help immediately. Often, seeing a healthcare professional is the first step.
Sometimes, individuals are diagnosed with a physical exam, or tests and screenings. These serve to rule out other conditions that may cause these symptoms. However, using criteria from the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is also common.
After they are officially diagnosed, there are various ways to help. Encourage them to get and stay in treatment. Be mindful that their hallucinations and delusions are real to them. Also, respecting and supporting them makes a big difference. Finally, join support groups, as they not only give opportunities for individuals with schizophrenia to reach out, but help people like you cope with these changes.
Remember, you are not alone. Many people and their loved ones experience schizophrenia. You can get help anytime.