What Is High Functioning Schizophrenia?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 04/26/2022

Schizophrenia is most likely a mental illness that you’ve heard of before. Typically in movies and television, schizophrenia, along with other mental health conditions, are not portrayed in a very accurate light. These are harmful portrayals of a mental illness, and specifically, schizophrenia, in this case, is a condition that people can seek treatment for and live completely normal lives with. This doesn’t mean that schizophrenia is self-explanatory, though, and it also means that what you might know about schizophrenia could be wrong. 

Mental illnesses also do not affect everyone in the same way. Some people might experience several symptoms while others might only experience one that they can truly put their finger on, while other symptoms occur unnoticed. Individuals might be affected greatly by their condition and have their life heavily impacted by it while others might not even notice that their experiences are any different than what a normal person goes through.

How can you tell? What is high-functioning schizophrenia? Let’s break down what all of that means.

What Does High Functioning Mean?

You might have heard the term “high functioning” when used in reference to those with depression. High functioning is a classification used to describe individuals who still have symptoms of mental illnesses or neurological disorders but are affected far less by their symptoms than other people might be as their symptoms are less severe. This means that an individual is still able to hold a full-time job, attend school, and be a full-time caregiver to a family member without much impairment.

Being high functioning does not mean the person is not affected by their symptoms, and they still very much are classified as someone suffering from whatever condition they have. Just because someone has high functioning depression does not mean they’re not depressed. Seeking treatment is recommended. If you believe that you may be a high functioning individual with any type of mental health disorder, it’s best to contact your medical provider to discuss your worries.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia affects about 1% of the adult population in the US, but 40% of the individuals with the condition do not receive adequate treatment. Symptoms typically begin to emerge in early adulthood or during the late teenage years (approximately 18 to 25), but there is no known trigger for the symptoms beginning.

Individuals with schizophrenia generally experience symptoms that fall into one of three categories, but that does not mean that they don’t experience symptoms from every category. These categories are psychoticnegative, and cognitive. Sometimes, symptoms that are psychotic are also referred to as positive symptoms.

Several factors play a part in determining whether or not someone may develop schizophrenia in their lifetime. It has been proven with research that there is a genetic link to schizophrenia, but that does not mean that someone who has a family member who lives with schizophrenia will also develop schizophrenia. Several genes play a part in determining whether or not someone will develop the condition, so no one gene controls whether the person will develop schizophrenia. However, it is not yet possible to use genetics to determine if someone will become schizophrenic to any degree.

Research suggests that living in poverty or in other stressful conditions such as an abusive household has also been thought by scientists to contribute to the potential development of schizophrenia. Improper prenatal care such as nutrition could also play a role in whether or not someone might be schizophrenic later in life.

Differences in the composition of the brain also might have a hand in the development of schizophrenia. Although most brains develop in the same manner for everyone, some people might have differences in how certain sections are connected to each other or differences in neurotransmitters such as the ones that transport dopamine.

Psychotic Symptoms

Psychotic symptoms are characterized by a loss of a shared sense of reality, experiencing the world in a warped way, having changes in their perception of senses such as altered taste and smell, and exhibiting odd behaviors. They might also include any of these symptoms: 

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
    • Some individuals also report feeling things that are not present such as a dog’s nose touching them
    • It is important to note that, while hallucinations are probably the most well-known symptom of schizophrenia, a person does not need to have these symptoms in order to be diagnosed
  • Paranoia and delusions
    • Fear of people watching or spying on them is a common paranoia
  • Disorganized thoughts which can result in jumbled speech

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms do not mean that symptoms of schizophrenia can be categorized as positive and negative in the sense that one is good and one is bad. Rather, it means that negative symptoms can be looked at as the symptoms that detract from an individual’s experiences. On the other hand, positive symptoms are experiences that a person without schizophrenia typically won’t experience (people without schizophrenia or another condition, for example, typically won’t experience hallucinations), which adds certain experiences to reality.

Examples of negative symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Lack of motivation and drive for planning, starting, and continuing activities such as chores or plans with friends
  • Inability or decreased ability to derive pleasure from things in everyday life
  • Lack of emoting through facial expressions such as smiling or frowning
  • This is also known as “flat affect”
  • Decreased talkativeness

All of these symptoms can result in the individual withdrawing from social activities such as going out with friends or spending time with family, and they can also impact work productivity as the person might not want to do their work any longer or cannot bring themselves to finish something that they’ve started.

These symptoms can make it difficult for schizophrenia to be diagnosed in teenagers as they are similar to behaviors teenagers already typically exhibit such as moodiness and withdrawing from friends and family. However, teenagers are less likely to experience delusions while being more likely to experience hallucinations. 

If you believe you or a loved one might be showing signs of schizophrenia, then taking this informative quiz can provide some guidance. It is not meant to act as a diagnostic tool and should only be used as a starting point. It will give you a sense of whether or not you should contact a medical provider to speak about the issue in more depth. Your doctor can refer you or your loved one to a specialist who can assist in creating a treatment plan.

Cognitive Symptoms

While not as drastic as seeing things that are not there or being unable to feel pleasure from everyday things, cognitive symptoms still have their effect on the person living with them. Examples of cognitive symptoms associated with schizophrenia include:

  • Difficulty with comprehending information in order to make a decision
  • Problems with using new information immediately after learning it such as when learning a new equation and being asked to complete problems with it
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing

Examples of People Diagnosed with Schizophrenia

Being diagnosed with schizophrenia does not mean that an individual is any less capable of becoming successful. There are several examples of successful people with schizophrenia in various fields of industry. This list includes but is not limited to:

  • Skip Spence (Singer/Songwriter for Moby Grape)
  • Darrell Hammond (SNL actor)
  • Jack Kerouac (Author)
  • James Gordon (Drummer)
  • Andy Goram (Soccer Player/Goalkeeper)
  • John Nash (Mathematician). He won a Nobel Prize!
  • Cecilia McGough (Mental health advocate and founder of Students with Psychosis)

A schizophrenia diagnosis is not sentencing to an unfulfilling life. With proper treatment and care as well as support from loved ones, someone with schizophrenia can live just as great of a life as anyone else.

Living with High Functioning Schizophrenia

Although high functioning schizophrenia seems like it would be easy to live with and requires no additional consideration, a certain amount of thought still needs to go into lifestyle choices. It’s also important to keep in mind that just because someone looks “just fine”, that doesn’t mean that they feel that way. You just cannot see what is going on in their mind at that moment or what they might be dealing with. 

Just like everyone has good and bad days emotionally, people dealing with even high-functioning schizophrenia can have good and bad days with their symptoms. When they’re being particularly impacted by their symptoms, they refer to it as being “symptomatic”. When symptomatic, one individual says that life can be draining and even the little things can be difficult to do. She relies on her service dog during the more difficult times. Life can be rewarding for those with schizophrenia; they just typically need to work harder than someone who isn’t living with the condition.

The best things that individuals living with schizophrenia can do are keep up with their treatment plan that they might have as well as keep in touch with their loved ones. Even when symptomatic and sending a text or making a phone call might sound like a daunting task, just hearing someone you love could be enough to encourage you to continue with other aspects of coping with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia does not define you or your life. With support and an effective plan, someone diagnosed with schizophrenia can lead full and fulfilling lives.