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Mind and Body

Understanding schizophrenia

The mental illness schizophrenia affects over two million American adults. The disorder often causes inappropriate and unpredictable behavior, making it difficult for schizophrenics to find employment or establish meaningful interpersonal relationships. 

People with schizophrenia are often faced with stigma and discrimination, usually due to a lack of familiarity with the disorder. To help you better understand the illness, here is a guide to the basics of schizophrenia.

Overview
Schizophrenia is a very complicated mental disorder, with no single cause or cure. People with schizophrenia typically have a tenuous grasp on reality and find it difficult to think logically or have normal emotional responses. In part due to the social isolation that results from schizophrenia, individuals with the disorder often experience depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. While schizophrenia is often stereotyped as a violent disease, most schizophrenics are not violent. Violent tendencies usually arise alongside psychotic symptoms, however violence in the community is generally uncommon, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

While schizophrenia affects men and women equally, it usually appears earlier and more severely in men than in women. Childhood schizophrenia can happen but very rarely. While no permanent cure exists, schizophrenia is generally a manageable condition.

Types
The nature of schizophrenia can vary widely according to the particular cognitive disturbances, and the disorder can be classified into different types.  Paranoid schizophrenia is characterized by false beliefs that others are plotting against you, and it is usually accompanied by paranoia and argumentative behavior. Disorganized schizophrenia results in difficulty thinking and trouble articulating ideas clearly, usually inducing childlike behavior or a lack of emotional expression. Catatonic schizophrenia causes a lack of activity, muscle rigidity, odd facial expressions and apathy toward others. Individuals can have more than one type of schizophrenia.

Symptoms
Schizophrenia usually does not appear suddenly. Symptoms will progress gradually over the course of months or years. The range and severity of schizophrenia’s effects vary from person to person. Early on-set symptoms include irritability, tension, sleeping problems and difficulty concentrating. As the disorder progresses, the individual may start to experience delusions and hallucinations. Symptoms of confusion and disordered thinking may grow worse. People interacting with the schizophrenic individual may notice a lack of emotion or bizarre behaviors. These symptoms pose huge challenges to everyday life and can cause severe emotional distress. As a result, many individuals with schizophrenia experience suicidal thoughts. The suicide rate for people with schizophrenia is much higher than that of the general population, reports NAMI.

Cause
Not even experts are absolutely certain about what causes schizophrenia, but researchers do have a few prime suspects. Genetics appear to be a major factor, as individuals related to someone with schizophrenia have a greater chance of developing the disorder as well. The identical twin of a person with schizophrenia has a 40 to 65 percent chance of also having schizophrenia, says NAMI. This suggests that while genetics play a huge role, they are not the only cause. Environmental triggers, such as viruses or problems during birth, may induce schizophrenia in individuals genetically at risk.

Treatment
As many as half of all individuals with schizophrenia show positive responses to treatment, experts say. Schizophrenia is primarily treated with antipsychotic medications, which can effectively regulate the brain’s chemicals. Antipsychotics can be taken in pill or liquid form, or they can be administered intravenously. For individuals whose primary symptoms have been stabilized, psychosocial therapy can help with the day-to-day interactions. Cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training and job training are all examples of programs that help individuals with schizophrenia. As research continues and awareness grows, the outlook for people with schizophrenia remains hopeful and progressive.