Resource Mental Health

Understanding schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder of the brain that affects approximately one percent of the world’s population. Research has shown that men and women are affected equally, but it may be diagnosed earlier in males.

It’s mainly characterised by hallucinations, delusions and other cognitive difficulties. As schizophrenia is so complex, there are many misconceptions surrounding this disorder. Examples of these misconceptions are that it’s a split personality or multiple personality disorder. Instead, schizophrenia is considered a group of disorders where symptoms vary.

Phases of schizophrenia
There are three stages of schizophrenia, the prodromal, active and residual stage. In the prodromal stage, the initial signs of schizophrenia start to develop. This usually involves a person isolating themselves from loved ones, losing motivation to do things they once enjoyed and a general lack of interest. Signs of this stage may be linked to signs of early depression which makes schizophrenia difficult to diagnose.

The active stage is where someone starts to show psychotic symptoms where they can’t distinguish between reality and imagination. The duration and severity of these symptoms vary and may involve hallucinations and delusion. Schizophrenia is easier to diagnose in this stage as symptoms are clearer.

Symptoms may include:

  • Positive psychotic symptoms
    This may include hallucinations like hearing voices and having exaggerated or distorted beliefs and behaviours. For example, you may believe that someone is making a secret television show about you.
  • Negative psychotics symptoms
    This may involve a loss or decrease in the ability to express emotions, find pleasure, speak and make plans with others.
  • Impaired brain function
    Experiencing problems paying attention, concentrating, remembering things and performing academically.
  • Disorganised symptoms
    Struggling to think logically, feeling confused, experiencing disordered thinking and speech and behaving strangely. 

The residual stage is known as the final stage of schizophrenia. In this stage, there often aren’t any psychotic symptoms, but negative ones instead. This may include them being antisocial and lacking enthusiasm and energy. Although you may not show any psychotic behaviour in this stage, you may also still express strange beliefs like believing someone dislikes or hates you with no evidence that they do.

Causes and risk factors
A definite cause for schizophrenia hasn’t been found but researchers believe that it may develop due to a combination of genetic, environmental factors and brain chemistry.

Risk factors may include:

  • Having a family history of schizophrenia. According to researchers, the chances of anyone developing schizophrenia is less than 1%, but if there’s a history of it in the family, this increases to 10%.
  • Environmental factors. Pregnancy, birth complications and trauma before birth like malnutrition, exposure to toxins or viruses that impact brain development can increase the risk. Stressful experiences later in life can also contribute like unemployment, divorce and relationship problems.
  • Drug abuse. Taking drugs that alter the mind like marijuana during your teen and early adulthood may trigger schizophrenia symptoms.

Treatment
According to research by the American Psychological Association, with proper treatment some people diagnosed with schizophrenia may partially recover. Approximately 35 to 40% of schizophrenic people see improvement in their symptoms with long-term treatment.

Treatment may include:

Antipsychotic drugs
These drugs don’t cure schizophrenia. Instead, they reduce symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. These drugs should only be prescribed by a doctor and are usually recommended by psychiatrists as there may be side-effects.

Psychosocial support
Psychotherapy is based on a relationship between a person and a psychologist. It provides a supportive environment where you can talk openly and comfortably with someone. The psychologist works with you to identify symptoms and behaviour which keeps you from functioning at your best. For example, it can help a schizophrenic person to learn how to cope and overcome their symptoms to live a normal life. It also helps them to function appropriately in different environments.

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