Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of schizophrenia. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.
Learn about schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that ultimately alters the way in which an individual will think, act, express emotions, and relate to those around him or her. Furthermore, those who are suffering from this debilitating mental illness lose touch with reality and are often unable to tell what is real from what is imagined. For these individuals, the world may look like a complete mess of confusing thoughts, images, and sounds, which can cause an individual to act in strange ways. This life-long disorder can cause a person to have difficulty functioning normally at work, school, or in society. Additionally, it is common for a schizophrenics to have a hard time with interpersonal relationships.
The severity of this disorder will vary from person to person, with some only experiencing one psychotic episode while others have many episodes throughout their lives. While schizophrenia cannot be cured, there are different treatment options available that can help relieve many of the disabling symptoms. Other treatment methods provide individuals with invaluable skills that help them cope with any remaining symptoms. While living with schizophrenia can be extremely challenging, with proper treatment, individuals with this disorder are able to leading meaningful lives.
Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia
Because an exact cause for the development of schizophrenia has not been determined, most experts believe that this mental health disorder is caused by several factors. Such factors are described in more detail below:
Genetic: Schizophrenia has long been known to run in families. While schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the population, it has been known to occur in 10% of people who have a first degree relative with this disorder. Furthermore, scientists believe that several genes are associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia, but there is not one gene by itself that causes this disease.
Physical: Through continued research, scientists also believe that imbalances in the chemical reactions of the brain involving certain neurotransmitters play a role in the development of schizophrenia. Additionally, neuroimaging studies have shown that the brains of those with schizophrenia look different than those of healthy individuals.
Environmental: Finally, in combination with the previously mentioned factors, researchers believe that interactions within the environment also play a role in the development of this disorder. Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain viruses or malnutrition before birth and problems during the birthing process, may be involved in the development of this disorder.
- Personal history of mental health condition or conditions
- Presence of undiagnosed mental health condition or conditions
- Being born to a father who is of advanced age
- History of abusing mind-altering substances
- Preexisting autoimmune disease
- Prenatal exposure to poor nutrition
- Prenatal exposure to viruses
- Family history of schizophrenia or other mental health condition or conditions
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia
The signs and symptoms associated with schizophrenia can be broken down into three main categories including: positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and cognitive symptoms. However, the existence of specific symptoms in each category will vary amongst individuals.
Positive symptoms: Positive symptoms typically refer to psychotic behaviors which are not seen in healthy individuals. The most common positive symptoms include:
- Troubling organizing thoughts or connecting them logically
- Talking in a jumbled way
- Repetition of certain behaviors
Negative symptoms: This category refers to the symptoms that disrupt normal emotions and behaviors and are often more difficult to recognize because they can often be indicative of the presence of other mental health conditions. Negative symptoms include:
- Flat affect
- General lack of pleasure in daily life
- Lack of the ability to begin or sustain planned activities
- Neglected personal hygiene
- Speaking little
- Decline in the ability to concentrate
- Social isolation
Cognitive symptoms: Just like negative symptoms, cognitive symptoms are usually very subtle and hard to identify as being definitive of the presence of schizophrenia. These symptoms make it hard for an individual to function properly throughout the day and often lead to emotional distress. The following are cognitive symptoms that schizophrenics tend to struggle with:
- Poor executive functioning
- Problems with focusing or paying attention
- Trouble with working memory
- Impaired executive functioning
Effects of schizophrenia
Unfortunately, there are a large number of individuals struggling with schizophrenia who never receive the treatment that they need, which can lead to a number of harmful, long-term effects. Listed below are some of the common effects of untreated schizophrenia:
- Increased risk for episodes of violence
- Inability to maintain employment
- Major family conflict
- Development of additional mental health disorders
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Inability to attend school
- Social isolation
- Health problems
- Self-harming behaviors
- Suicidal ideations
- Suicide attempts
Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders
Schizophrenia has been known to occur alongside other mental health disorders. Additionally, if left untreated, this disorder has been known to result in severe emotional, behavioral, and health problems. Some of the most common disorders that co-occur with schizophrenia include:
- Depressive disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Anxiety disorders, including phobias
- Paranoid personality disorder