Overview and Facts
Schizophrenia is a very severe and challenging brain disorder that affects over 2 million American adults. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly and distinguish reality from fantasy. Schizophrenic people often hear voices that others don’t. They may think that other people are trying to control them or their thoughts, read their minds or planning to hurt them. These symptoms make schizophrenia a disease that is very frightening to have and thus makes those who suffer from it extremely withdrawn from society.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative and cognitive. In each category, symptoms range from hallucinations to problems with memory and emotional distress.
Positive symptoms: These are psychotic behaviors that are not seen in healthy people. People with positive schizophrenic symptoms tend to lose touch with reality.
- Delusions – false beliefs that occur even though the beliefs have been proved to be false.
- Hallucinations – these are things that people hear, see or feel that no one else can. The most common schizophrenic hallucination is hearing voices – they may talk to the person about impending danger, what they should or should not do and about their behavior.
- Movement disorders – these are agitated body movements that a person may repeat over and over.
- Thought disorders – these are unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking. When it happens, a person may talk in a jumbled way, make up words or stop speaking in the middle of a sentence or thought.
Negative symptoms: These are symptoms associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. These schizophrenic symptoms are not as easily identifiable as positive symptoms and could be mistaken for other disorders such as depression.
- Needing help with everyday tasks
- Lacking basic hygiene
- ‘Flat affect’ – when a person’s face does not move or speaking is done in a dull or monotonous tone
- Inability to participate in planned activities
- Being lazy or unwilling to do things
Cognitive symptoms: These schizophrenic symptoms are much more subtle in comparison to others. They are difficult to recognize and may only be when other tests are performed.
- Needing help with everyday tasks
- Trouble paying attention
- Poor ability to make decisions
- Emotional stress
- Problems with working memory, which is the ability to use information immediately after learning it
Causes and Diagnosis
Researchers believe that schizophrenia is caused by several different factors:
- Genes. Schizophrenia is known to run in families. Though it occurs in just 1 percent of the general population, it occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder. There are several genes associated with schizophrenia, though there is not a single gene that is the cause of schizophrenia. Rather, people with schizophrenia have higher rates of rare genetic mutations that likely disrupt brain activity and development.
- Environment. In addition to genes, environmental factors such as problems during birth, exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth can cause schizophrenia to develop.
- Brain chemistry and structure. An imbalance in the chemical reactions of the brain can play a role in the development of schizophrenia. Scientists have also learned that the brains of people with schizophrenia look different than those of people with normal mental health. Brains of people with this mental illness tend to have areas that have less or zero activity, in comparison with people without the illness.
Tests and Treatment Options
Until a cause of schizophrenia has been identified, schizophrenia treatments are mainly focused on lessening the schizophrenic symptoms. Schizophrenia treatment includes the following:
- Antipsychotic mediations. Most of these medications are used to treat psychotic symptoms and hallucinations. These schizophrenia medications have been available since the 1950s, however new medications were developed in the 1990s.
- Rehabilitation. This schizophrenic treatment emphasizes social training to help patients function properly around others. From job counseling to learning to use public transportation, these programs help patients hold jobs and improve proper, everyday functioning.
- Psychosocial treatments. This type of schizophrenic treatment is helpful for those who are already on antipsychotic medications. These treatments help schizophrenic patients with the everyday challenges they face such as difficulty communicating and relating to others. Psychosocial treatments teach schizophrenics coping mechanisms. Patients under this type of treatment are more likely to continue taking their medication and are also less likely to have relapses.
Self help groups. These can be beneficial not only for the patient suffering from schizophrenia, but also their family. Groups can get together and share experiences, comfort and support each other. This lets people know they are not alone in facing this mental illness and provides a network of support they can turn to when times get tough.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Though schizophrenics can and should get help from professionals, family and friends usually act as caretakers and can help with schizophrenia treatment. Often times, patients with schizophrenia refuse treatment and think they don’t need help. However, if people with schizophrenia become dangerous to themselves or those around, it is important for family and friends to take their loved one to the hospital. At the hospital, they can provide important information regarding the person’s behavior and symptoms that can help a professional make a decision about hospital care and treatment. After a loved one leaves the hospital, family and friends should be sure they continue getting treatment and taking medication. They can also help the person set goals and function properly to maintain a normal life.