Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
Many of us have heard of schizophrenia before, but there are many misconceptions and false assumptions associated with the illness.
Schizophrenia is often associated with vivid, intense hallucinations or delusions and severe, erratic behavior, but the disorder's reality is rarely so dramatized, though it is a significant mental health concern and deserves to be taken very seriously.
As public understanding of schizophrenia (and mental health in general) increases over time, so do treatment options and abilities.
What exactly is schizophrenia? What does it look like, and what is it like to live with it? How can we go about treating andor curing it?
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that significantly impacts thinking, emotions, and behavior. Schizophrenia is a serious condition; it can be quite debilitating and can impact a person's ability to function well in daily life.
Those with schizophrenia may have a hard time keeping a grasp on reality. These individuals might also experience hallucinations, delusions, trouble thinking, negative symptoms (reduced or no ability to function), and more. Symptoms of schizophrenia can vary from person to person, and no two individuals will experience the disorder the same way.
Unlike some other mental health disorders, schizophrenia often does not begin to present until adulthood (early to mid-20s for men, late 20s for women). Schizophrenia may be harder to identify in teens and children because some symptoms associated with the disorder can also be normal parts of development (withdrawal from friends and family, irritability, etc.).
There are several risk factors that may contribute to the development of schizophrenia, including genetics and differences in brain structure and chemicals. There are also environmental factors that may be a piece of the causal puzzle.
How Common Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a relatively uncommon mental disorder. Estimates suggest that around 0.25%-.064% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is one of the top fifteen causes of disability worldwide.
Though it may be less common than other disorders, schizophrenia is equally as serious. Individuals with schizophrenia who do not receive treatment may experience a worsening of their symptoms. Schizophrenia often occurs alongside other mental health problems.
It’s important not to underestimate the impacts of schizophrenia due to its lack of prevalence. In fact, it may be especially important to promote informational and educational material about schizophrenia, as public understanding of the disorder has a long way to go.
Schizophrenia DSM-5 Criteria
The DSM-5 is the main tool currently used by healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat mental disorders. It outlines specific criteria that must be met to receive an official diagnosis.
Regarding schizophrenia, the DSM-5 states the following:
- Two or more of the following symptoms must be present, each for a significant portion of time during one month (or less if treated). At least one of the symptoms bolded must be one of those bolded:
- disorganized speech (incoherence, inability to complete thought/sentence)
- disorganized or catatonic (inability to move normally) behavior
- negative symptoms (reduced emotional expression or reduced ability to function)
The DSM-5 also notes that a person's ability to function in various aspects of life (work, home, school) must be noticeably low compared to their abilities before the onset of symptoms.
To summarize, to meet DSM-5 criteria, an individual must present with some of the key symptoms of schizophrenia over a long-term period. These long-term symptoms must also significantly impact a person's ability to function and/or their livelihood.
Living with Schizophrenia
Because schizophrenia begins to present symptoms during adulthood and because the symptoms associated with schizophrenia can be so severe, it can seem impossible to figure out how to navigate living with schizophrenia. However, with proper and timely treatment it's possible to cope with schizophrenia.
For those who wish to support someone in their life with schizophrenia, one of the best steps to take is to educate yourself. Schizophrenia is a complex and sometimes very individual experience, so having a solid understanding of what you might expect could be incredibly helpful for both you and your loved one.
Schizophrenia often combines cognitive, behavioral, and psychotic symptoms. Being prepared to provide support or care is also a great strategy, as is having honest conversations with your loved one about their experiences and how you can help.
The symptoms of schizophrenia can be quite severe and also alarming. If you or someone you know seem(s) to be exhibiting any of the symptoms of schizophrenia discussed in this article, it may be worthwhile to evaluate the experiences further.
A great tool for reviewing and helping you think about your symptoms is our free, quick, and confidential schizophrenia test. Please note that this test is not meant to be a diagnostic tool and does not replace a healthcare professional's diagnosis. Always speak with your doctor or mental health professional if you're concerned about potential schizophrenia symptoms or other mental health symptoms of any kind.
When speaking with a healthcare professional about your symptoms, be sure to be as honest and thorough as possible. It may help to document the symptoms you experience, both to help you track and understand them and to use them as a resource for treatment.
Is schizophrenia Curable? Can Schizophrenia Be Cured Completely?
Currently, there is no cure for schizophrenia. Though there is no cure, with proper treatment, individuals with the illness can successfully address their symptoms.
Schizophrenia recovery methods or treatment plans typically involve therapy of some kind. Therapy is an excellent way to begin to understand your mental health, individual challenges, and skills to help you deal with your symptoms.
Over time, most schizophrenia patients will experience fewer and fewer symptoms of the disorder (or become better equipped to handle them). There are no shortcuts in schizophrenia recovery, but having a steady support system, a suitable treatment plan, and a positive attitude might just be the best thing you can do.
After you or someone you know receives a schizophrenia diagnosis, things might feel chaotic or even devastating. However, effective treatment for schizophrenia does exist - in fact, the vast majority of those with the illness get better over time instead of worse.
For many individuals who deal with schizophrenia, symptoms are episodic (meaning they occur occasionally or irregularly). That means that the time between severe symptoms is a great one to learn skills to cope with schizophrenia.
Alongside therapy and the assistance of healthcare professionals, schizophrenia treatment usually involves creating a strong support system. Educating yourself on the illness and practicing good self-care or self-help skills are also crucial.
Self-care and self-help skills can involve basic things, like maintaining good hygiene or dietary patterns. It can also involve managing stress, communicating openly with others, and even staying active.
There's no shortage of ways to help manage the symptoms of schizophrenia, but it's key that you find the resources you need for your unique challenges. Remember that no two individuals are the same, and neither are two individual cases of schizophrenia (or schizophrenia recovery, for that matter).
It's no secret that schizophrenia can be an intricate and tough challenge to face. Not only does it cause symptoms that heavily impact a person's day-to-day life, but it can also cause immense stress for family members, friends, and other loved ones.
Unfortunately, there is not a cure for schizophrenia as of right now. The causes of schizophrenia are also not fully understood, making it slightly difficult to predict who is at an increased risk of developing the disorder. However, as research into mental health treatment and symptoms evolve, it's reasonable to assume that our understanding of schizophrenia will as well.
Though there is no cure for schizophrenia, there are effective ways to treat it. Many with schizophrenia regularly attend therapy sessions and practice self-care or self-help skills to maintain stability within their lives.
Another beneficial option is attending a support group meeting, which gives an individual with schizophrenia the unique opportunity to directly interact with and relate to others also working to manage their condition. The value of this sort of opportunity can't be understated.
If you or someone you know may be showing symptoms of schizophrenia, it's always best to seek out the opinion and care of a healthcare professional. Though it's wonderful and helpful to seek out the assistance and insight of articles or quizzes online, they are not a replacement for meeting with a doctor or mental health professional.
If you have received a schizophrenia diagnosis or know someone who has, it's important to remember that there is hope. Though the symptoms of schizophrenia can seem world-shattering and impossible to cope with, there are tools available.
Remember to take care of yourself and try to do the same for those around you. You never know who may be struggling with which challenges or experiences within their own lives.