What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder where synapses are broken in the parts of the brain that control thoughts, feelings, and actions. This can lead to a false perception of the world around the person. People suffering from this condition may also show inappropriate actions and feelings, and may even seem to withdrawal from reality and personal relationships.
Schizophrenia is an often misunderstood mental health condition that affects about 1.2 percent of Americans, or 3.2 million. Although people can develop it at any time, patients typically start showing signs of schizophrenia in early adulthood.
Unlike many other mental disorders, schizophrenia is a lifelong disorder. However, patients can experience periods of inactivity in the disorder. With treatment, schizophrenia can lie dormant, and patients can live healthy lives. However, they must continue the treatment, or else symptoms will return.
When schizophrenia becomes active, patients have difficulty with several cognitive functions, including memory, concentration, and motivation. Schizophrenia also affects the way a patient expresses emotions, connects with reality, and relate to other people.
Myths About Schizophrenia
Unfortunately, the lack of understanding about the disorder and the ways the media represents schizophrenia have led to serious misunderstandings about the disease. It’s important to spread the truth about this disorder so that people will seek treatment as needed.
Myth: People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities
One poll discovered that an astounding 64 percent of American adults believe that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities. This idea is simply untrue. These disorders are not the same and have little to do with one another.
Myth: Schizophrenia means the person is violent
Perhaps the most damaging misconception is that people with schizophrenia are always violent. Patients with this disorder can be brutal, but so can people without schizophrenia. In most real-life cases in which a person with schizophrenia commits a violent crime, the person also has a different problem, such as a history of drug abuse.
Myth: People with schizophrenia live in a mental institution
Finally, some people believe that anyone with schizophrenia is locked in a mental hospital never to re-enter society. This outdated idea of mental illness keeps many people from seeking treatment that they need for fear of being tossed aside.
Today, psychiatrists and therapists treat people with this disorder with compassion and care. Patients only receive in-patient care in extreme cases or for short times as they adjust to medicine.
Researchers have not yet identified and the exact cause of schizophrenia. There seem to be some genetic components as well as environmental ones. Exposure to toxins and viruses during critical developmental stages can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, for example. This data suggests that the presence of schizophrenia is not all about genetics. However, some research suggests that certain things can be risk factors for the disease.
Some common risk factors for schizophrenia including:
- Chronic inflammation
- Autoimmune disorders
- Having an older biological father than is typical
- A biological mother that experienced pregnancy problems, including malnutrition and certain viruses
- History of psychotropic or psychoactive drug use in teenage and early adult years
- A family history of schizophrenia
Is Schizophrenia Genetic?
Although genes are not the sole cause of schizophrenia, they seem to play a significant role in the development of the disease. As of now, researchers believe that is a combination of several genes that cause schizophrenia in families, rather than one single gene.
Having a biological parent or grandparent with the disease does increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. However, it is not a sure thing. Many people have family members–even identical twins–with schizophrenia but never develop the disease.
Anyone who is worried that they may develop schizophrenia should seek professional guidance. A psychiatrist may analyze symptoms or use neuropsychological testing to determine the person’s status.
Because schizophrenia involves so many processes in the brain, patients can exhibit many different symptoms. Furthermore, the disease does not look the same in every patient. Some common schizophrenia symptoms include:
- Pulling away from friends and family
- Disorganized thoughts and speech
- Difficulty sleeping
- Depressed or low mood
- Irritability or paranoia
- Poor hygiene
- Abnormal motor behavior, such as fidgeting
- Monotone speech
- Resistance to completing tasks
- Lost interest in activities they used to love
- Low performance in school or work
- Trouble with memory
The full list of symptoms is lengthy. However, some of these signs are not exclusive to schizophrenia. Mental health professionals may perform a differential diagnosis to rule out other disorders, including anxiety and depression.
Schizophrenia Test & Diagnosis
Schizophrenia is a severe diagnosis, so psychiatrists want to be sure before treating it. As such, the diagnostic process can be lengthy or complicated. First, the doctor conducts a physical examination to assess the patient. They may look for any other issues that could cause the same symptoms.
Neuropsychologists may request imaging tests, such as MRIs or CT scans. Because schizophrenia is a brain disease, professionals can see altered activity in the brain that points to this diagnosis. They can also rule out other causes, such as TBIs or seizures. If the doctor identifies another apparent reason for the symptoms, the patient will receive treatment for that instead.
The care team will also conduct a psychiatric evaluation. During this appointment, patients disclose their symptoms, personal mental health history, and family history. Clients may want a support person present at this appointment to help or may come alone for privacy.
The care team may also involve social workers, especially if the person experiences homelessness or food insecurity due to their symptoms. These professionals help patients find the resources they need to pay for treatment and meet their needs while the doctors help them.
With all of these tests completed, doctors will use the DSM-5 to see if the patient meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia.
Once a patient has a schizophrenia diagnosis, he or she requires lifelong treatment. Therapists, social workers, nurses, and psychiatrists can help the person overcome symptoms. However, treatment may continue even after the symptoms subside.
In many cases, patients stay in a residential treatment center for at least a short time. This helps keep them safe while the care team helps them with the most dangerous symptoms. During hospitalization, patients receive regular therapy and medication as needed.
People who do not need in-patient treatment or get released from such facilities should have regular appointments with psychiatrists and counselors. Medication management will play an essential role in putting schizophrenia into remission and keeping it there. Antipsychotics are the most common class of medicine that people with schizophrenia need, However, doctors may also prescribe anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants to deal with specific symptoms.
In therapy, patients learn coping mechanisms for things that may trigger their symptoms. They may also work through the many emotions that receiving a diagnosis like this can bring on. The counselor can also help the patient develop healthy social skills, which schizophrenia could have prevented. The patient’s support system may also participate in family therapy, which allows everyone to understand the disorder and how to help.