Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Are there certain behaviors that you have that makes people tag you weird? Or maybe you forget things easily? Has there ever been a time when you thought you saw something even though it wasn't there?
You may have recently been having issues sleeping or suddenly feel the need to stop talking to your close friends. Maybe there are times when you find it hard to complete tasks. Do you suddenly feel the need to act on impulse without really thinking about your actions?
When you hear the word "Schizophrenia," what comes to your mind? The first thing that may come to your mind is 'CRAZY,' but this is a misconception.
Most times, it is hard to know when you have schizophrenia because some of the symptoms that indicate schizophrenia may be disregarded as normal reactions to stress by most people or hormonal changes due to puberty (in the case of teenagers), but over time it grows to be what it is – schizophrenia.
The truth is recognizing that you (or someone close to you) has schizophrenia can be a confusing experience. You typically are not aware that you have schizophrenia until you are told by family members, a doctor, or friends. This is because schizophrenia usually distorts reality and makes you think and act abnormally.
It becomes hard to distinguish reality from fantasy, and it may affect your emotions, how you relate with the people around you, and your everyday life. At this point, you are separated from reality, and it can become challenging to maintain contact with other people.
If you are experiencing some of these things, then you may be concerned about being schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects the mind and distorts the affected individual's thinking and lifestyle. However, most people still don't have an in-depth understanding of what schizophrenia is.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects the mind and thinking, leading to delusions, hallucinations, disabled thinking and functioning, and a general lack of motivation.
This disorder affects a person mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and even physically. They have a distorted view of reality since schizophrenia is often characterized by a severe case of hallucinations and delusions that cross the line between what is real and what isn't.
Schizophrenia isn't a common illness, and although it has no cure, it can be well-managed if detected early. Still, its’ effects can be very damaging if proper diagnosis and treatment are not administered on time to the person involved.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia affects 0.25% to 0.64% of people living in the United States of America.
Contrary to what most people believe, schizophrenia has nothing to do with 'split or multiple personalities.' It is a mental illness that can be deemed psychotic, as schizophrenic people tend to act abnormally and make them appear slightly “off” as their behaviors can be shocking and embarrassing.
Since schizophrenia affects the mind, people who have schizophrenia usually have an altered perception of reality. This makes it hard for other people to relate to them, which disrupts the balance of their everyday lives.
However, there is hope for people with schizophrenia because when detected on time and properly managed, schizophrenic people can function well and do the things normal people do without psychotic episodes.
What Are The Symptoms Of Schizophrenia?
The symptoms of schizophrenia can be challenging to detect because most people aren't aware that they have schizophrenia and would most likely associate the early signs with stress.
For some, it may only occur periodically. Therefore, it becomes difficult to know if it is schizophrenia or just reacting to stress or pressure. The symptoms of schizophrenia are classified into two categories, which are the Positive and Negative Symptoms.
The positive symptoms are also referred to as the core symptoms of schizophrenia, and they include:
- Disorganized speech
- Odd movements
- Little or no emotional response.
When you hear and see things that are not there, you are hallucinating. However, for someone with schizophrenia, these hallucinations seem very real.
Delusions are also common among schizophrenic people as they have strange beliefs and views that don't seem normal. Delusions often follow after hallucinations, and it is hard to convince someone with the disorder that they are wrong because they will hold firmly to their beliefs or convictions.
Many times, they think they're in danger, and someone is watching them. Other times, they believe they're special and can hear messages that others can't hear or comprehend. This causes them to say strange things or act oddly.
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia usually start to occur right before the positive symptoms and are usually the first signs of schizophrenia. When these symptoms occur, you will notice subtle changes in the form of poor hygiene or grooming. At this point, the person affected is not concerned about their appearance anymore.
Secondly, the person affected might feel the need to stop hanging out with their friends and family. At this point, they may become socially withdrawn, without feeling the need to connect with others.
Another negative symptom of schizophrenia is the motivation to engage in any activity. In addition, the zeal to move on with life might fade. There is also a general lack of concentration, and it becomes hard to focus.
When observed individually, these symptoms can be confused with something else, which can make it hard to diagnose initially. You may experience all of these things and still not be schizophrenic. It is, however, advisable to see a doctor when feeling these symptoms frequently.
Types Of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia encompasses different types of mental disorders that fall under the same category. People suffer from varying types of schizophrenia, so the symptoms and reactions aren't always the same.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), there are five main types of schizophrenia, and they are:
- Paranoid schizophrenia
- Residual schizophrenia
- Undifferentiated schizophrenia
- Disorganized schizophrenia
- Catatonic schizophrenia
This is the most common type of schizophrenia. It is characterized by positive schizophrenic symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, meaningless words or sentences, difficulty concentrating, strange behaviors, etc.
This type of schizophrenia is associated with a history of intense schizophrenia, and it comes with a less intense psychotic episode. Still, it is damaging because of the lingering symptoms. It is characterized by a long period of silence, lack of empathy or emotions in general, poor personal hygiene, lack of motivation to engage in any activity, etc.
This is the classification of schizophrenia for people who exhibit both positive and negative symptoms. This is the type of schizophrenia in which the person manifests symptoms associated with all groups of schizophrenia.
This is also referred to as Hebephrenic schizophrenia. It has to do with the type of schizophrenia that affects a person's speech and behavior, causing them to lack any form of emotional response to situations. Its characteristics are forgetfulness, distorted speech, difficulty comprehending sounds or things they see, repeating movements or gestures, like pacing or walking in circles.
This type of schizophrenia affects the physical movement and posture of the schizophrenic person. It causes them to stay in odd positions, walk peculiarly, and react to stimuli. It is usually characterized by strange body posture, unresponsiveness to touch, mutism, and odd movements.
However, mental health experts do not always use these classifications since in 2013 an updated version of the DSM simplified the diagnosis into only one category.
The changes were made due to the similarities of the symptoms in each sub-type of schizophrenia, making it difficult to be precise when determining the type of schizophrenia one is suffering from.
Ways Of Diagnosing Schizophrenia
Although many mental health professionals say that there are no available laboratory tests to diagnose schizophrenia, a doctor can diagnose it through a physical and medical examination of the schizophrenic patient.
Most times, the first means of diagnosis is through physical examination. If nothing is discovered, the individual is then sent to a psychiatrist or mental therapist specializing in identifying these disorders. He/she identifies the specific disorder according to the symptoms displayed.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the reference book for all recognized mental illnesses, if the person experiences the core symptoms, delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and lack of emotions for at least a month, then they have schizophrenia.
Diagnostic methods for schizophrenia can be quite tricky, so there are a few different methods to diagnose schizophrenia in individuals.
A doctor can carry out a diagnostic Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scan on the patient to rule out other conditions.
Here, a mental health professional can observe and determine if the individual involved is schizophrenic based on how they appear, talk, and behave.
Clinical Global Impression-Schizophrenia (CGI-SCH) Test
Doctors use this test to diagnose how severe the schizophrenia is and how effective the treatment being received by the schizophrenic patient is. The test is measured on a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the most severe case of schizophrenia.
Calgary Depression Scale For Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is diagnosed using this method, and this is done by comparing how the extent to which depression triggers schizophrenia in a person. It involves asking nine questions about the emotions and mood of the patient to measure its effects.
This is also another way to detect schizophrenia. By carrying out a cognitive test, the doctor monitors the person's cognitive functioning.
Brief Psychiatrist Rating Scale (BPRS)
This is used as a means to diagnose schizophrenia by psychiatrists and mental health experts. It is one of the most common methods of a schizophrenia diagnosis. It uses a scale of 1-7 to determine the presence and severity of schizophrenia in an individual, and it is based on the core symptoms of schizophrenia.
Other tests that can be carried out include personality tests, the Inkblot test, or Rorschach test, etc.
Early diagnosis makes it easier for schizophrenia to be treated and well managed. With the right medication and therapy, a person with schizophrenia can live normally. It is advised that you see a doctor or psychiatrist once you notice the symptoms of schizophrenia, especially if there persist for more than a week.
Who Does Schizophrenia affect?
Schizophrenia usually affects people from late teens to late 30s. It is extremely rare to find a child below 13 or an adult above 45 who has an undiagnosed schizophrenic disorder.
It isn't gender-specific, as it affects both men and women equally. However, the symptoms are usually detected earlier in men than in women.
For teenagers, the symptoms of schizophrenia may start to occur around the age of 16. However, it can happen earlier, and it is hard to detect because family/guardian may be quick to dismiss it as something that teens do or as part of changes that occur during adolescence.
What Triggers Schizophrenia?
There are specific triggers or causes of schizophrenia. It can be due to a traumatic emotional experience, genetics, drug abuse, chemical and structural changes in the brain, etc.
When it comes to an emotional experience, many people go through the trauma that may arise from a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, sexual or physical abuse, divorce, etc. All of these can trigger the symptoms of schizophrenia to occur in a person.
Genetics plays a role in causing schizophrenia in an individual. Although it has been discovered that a single gene may be incapable of transmitting the disorder, a combination of genes however, may be responsible for schizophrenia in individuals.
Taking drugs often does not necessarily correlate to developing schizophrenia, but drug abuse has a high risk of inducing schizophrenia in a person. You are advised to stay away from certain illegal drugs because abuse of these drugs can trigger schizophrenia. Some of these drugs include cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines, LSD, etc.
These drugs can trigger schizophrenia because they induce hallucinations, delusions, distorted speech, and movements by altering the neurotransmitters in the brain,.
Chemical changes in the brain also have a role to play in the causes/triggers of schizophrenia because the brain has a group of interrelated chemicals called neurotransmitters.
These neurotransmitters help transfer signals between brain cells, and when these chemicals are produced at too low levels, it could trigger schizophrenia in individuals. Glutamates and dopamine are also brain chemicals that have been said to cause schizophrenia.
The structure of your brain plays a role in determining if you have schizophrenia or not. People diagnosed with schizophrenia have been found to have subtle differences in their brain structure, although this isn't the same for everyone diagnosed with the disorder.
How To Manage And Treat Schizophrenia
It was mentioned that schizophrenia has no cure, although it can be managed successfully. It requires lifelong treatment to ensure that a person with schizophrenia lives a normal and happy life.
With the right medications and therapy with a psychiatrist, the disorder can be effectively managed. Mental health professionals usually recommend antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenic patients because they help manage the symptoms of schizophrenia by affecting the brain neurotransmitter dopamine.
Alongside antipsychotic drugs, anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants are usually prescribed for people with schizophrenic order. However, they have to be heavily monitored to ensure that they are not taken in high doses.
Having a support system is also a great way to manage schizophrenia. Family and friends are often encouraged to support people with the disorder because their presence and moral support show they are loved, which quickens the healing process.
Schizophrenia is a severe brain condition that affects a person's perception of reality. It can alter your thinking and detach you from the real world.
Schizophrenia is characterized by psychotic episodes and delusions, disorganized speech, thinking, hallucinations, and has nothing to do with demonic possessions, as many movies make it seem. It can be successfully managed and treated once detected. Hence, there is no need to panic.
Being schizophrenic can be challenging for you and the people around you, but you can get better and live a normal life once you seek medical attention and treatments. If you're ready to get started, take an assessment test for schizophrenia.