What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental illness which causes changes in the way individuals process experiences and understand the world around them. People with schizophrenia often suffer from several symptoms, including paranoia, hallucinations or delusions. It is important to note that schizophrenia is NOT a split or multiple personality, and the majority of people with schizophrenia are not violent and do not pose a danger to others.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Scientists do not yet understand all of the factors that lead to schizophrenia, but they do know it can be caused by genetics, chemistry and biology.

Many scientific studies support that genetics play a part in the development of the illness. Scientists believe that multiple genes are involved in creating a predisposition to develop the disorder. Studies have shown that people who have a close relative with schizophrenia are more likely to develop the disorder than people who have no relatives with the illness.

The illness also is shown to be associated with chemical conditions or changes in the brain. It is likely, although not yet certain, that an imbalance of complex chemical systems of the brain contributes to the cause of the disorder. The imbalance affects the way a person’s brain reacts to stimuli. This may explain why a person with schizophrenia has trouble processing sensory information which other people handle every day.

In addition, schizophrenia may be caused by a physical abnormality of the brain. Many studies of people with schizophrenia have found abnormalities in brain structure that may be linked to fetal development.

What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

  • Delusions or false personal beliefs – People with schizophrenia might believe someone is trying to harm them or take advantage of them. They may believe they are famous people or have special powers.
  • Hallucinations – Schizophrenia often causes hallucinations that are tied to sensory perceptions – sound, sight, taste and smell. The most common hallucination is hearing voices that other people do not hear.
  • Disordered thinking and speech – A person with schizophrenia often has trouble “thinking straight.” This can significantly interfere with following a daily routine or taking care of every day needs. Thoughts may rapidly come and go, and the person might not be able to concentrate. Individuals may make up their own language or talk in a nonsensical fashion.
  • Social withdrawal
  • Apathy

What are the Types of Schizophrenia?

Paranoid Schizophrenia – A person might have extreme feelings of suspicion, persecution, inflated self-confidence or importance or a combination of these.

Disorganized Schizophrenia – A person often has confused speech and thought. He or she may be unable to communicate effectively, but not experience delusions.

Catatonic Schizophrenia – A person is often withdrawn, mute, has a negative attitude and may be non-responsive to others.

Residual Schizophrenia – A person is withdrawn, has no motivation or interest in life, but is no longer experiencing delusions or hallucinations.

Schizoaffective Disorder – A person has symptoms of both schizophrenia and a major mood disorder, such as depression or bi-polar.

What are the Treatments for Schizophrenia?

Since the 1950’s antipsychotic medications have been prescribed to treat symptoms associated with schizophrenia. They often have the ability to reduce hallucinations, agitation, confusion and delusions associated with the illness. Newer medications do this without some of the harsh side effects of previous drugs. These medications usually allow the patient to function more effectively and appropriately, but they do not cure schizophrenia or guarantee a total elimination of psychotic episodes. Medications do not often help relieve the behavioral symptoms of schizophrenia.

Talk therapy with a mental health professional often helps individuals with schizophrenia to understand their illness and how it affects their lives. It helps them to distinguish the real from the distorted. They can learn how to better relate to other people and their reality. Talk therapy also helps family members identify more effective methods of supporting the individual when symptoms are more active. This kind of rehabilitation may help a person to function in the social and work world. Programs may include vocational counseling, job training, money management skills and social skills training.

How Common is Schizophrenia?

Approximately 1 percent of the population develops schizophrenia during a lifetime – more than 2 million Americans suffer from the illness. Schizophrenia affects both men and women equally, but the disorder often appears earlier in men.

Additional Resources:

National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression
The Schizophrenia Home Page
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Recovery Network of Northern Kentucky

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