Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with schizophrenia? If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.
Learn about schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental health disorder that causes people to suffer from significant misinterpretations of the world around them. These individuals have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is not. They struggle to think clearly, tend to have grossly inappropriate emotional responses to various situations and circumstances, and have difficulty acting appropriately in social situations. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and often disabling illness that leads to extreme distress, turmoil, and disruption in the lives of those who suffer from it.
This illness can also have detrimental effects on the family members and loved ones of individuals who have schizophrenia because they often need a great deal of help with daily functioning. With proper treatment and medication, however, it is possible for people with schizophrenia to successfully gain control of their symptoms and lead happy, productive lives.
It is estimated that 1% of the population in the United States suffers from schizophrenia. It is believed to affect men and women in equal numbers. The first episode of schizophrenia symptoms is thought to typically occur between a person’s late teen years and mid-thirties. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that it is uncommon for individuals over the age of 45 to suffer the initial onset of schizophrenia.
Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is believed to be the result of a combination of factors, rather than just one specific cause. The most commonly cited factors believed to play a role in the development of schizophrenia include:
Genetic: Schizophrenia is believed to have a strong genetic link, as it tends to run in families. It is estimated that 10% of individuals who are suffering from schizophrenia have a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) who suffers from the illness as well.
Physical: Dopamine and serotonin are two chemicals in the brain that play a key role in managing mood and emotion. Many experts in the field believe that when a person’s dopamine and serotonin levels are either too high or too low, they may experience symptoms of schizophrenia.
Environmental: Scientists have stated that there are likely many environmental factors that play a role in the onset of schizophrenia, but the most commonly noted are believed to occur while in utero or during the birthing process, including exposure to viruses prenatally, the presence of complications during the birthing process, and prenatal malnutrition.
- Family history of schizophrenia
- Family history of other mental disorders
- Taking mind-altering substances
- Having an autoimmune disease
- Being exposed to viruses while in utero
- Experiencing malnutrition while in utero
- Having a father who is significantly older in age
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia are characterized by type, including positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. The majority of schizophrenia symptoms are believed to initially present between the ages of 16 and 30, with men typically experiencing symptoms earlier than women do. The following are some examples of various symptoms that people with schizophrenia may exhibit:
Positive symptoms are characterized by psychotic behaviors that healthy people typically do not participate in. When people are experiencing positive symptoms, they often lose touch with reality. Examples of these types of symptoms include:
- Thought disorders
- Movement disorders
Negative symptoms are characterized by emotional and behavioral abilities that people are no longer able to perform. These tend to be much more difficult to identify because they are not as apparent as the existence of positive symptoms. Examples of these types of symptoms include:
- Flat affect (e.g. lacking facial expressions, speaking in monotone, etc.)
- Lacking the ability to concentrate
- No longer able to articulate thoughts
- Speaking as little as possible
- Lacking personal hygiene
Cognitive symptoms present very subtly and may not be immediately identified as symptomatic of the presence of schizophrenia. These symptoms can include:
- Poor executive functioning
- Experiencing significant problems with one’s working memory
- Having extreme difficulty paying attention
Effects of schizophrenia
When left untreated, schizophrenia can have an extremely detrimental impact on a person’s life. The effects of schizophrenia will vary in severity depending upon each individual person and can include:
- Familial discord
- Inability to develop and maintain significant interpersonal relationships
- Isolation from family and friends
- Chronic substance abuse
- Extreme phobias
- Excessive paranoia
- Severe anxiety
- Self-harming behaviors
Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders
Individuals who have schizophrenia may also suffer from other mental health disorders. Some examples of these co-occurring disorders can include:
- Substance abuse disorders (this is the most common)
- Paranoid personality disorder
- Schizotypal disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias