Learn More About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental illness marked by three overarching groups of symptoms: positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and cognitive symptoms. It can be a dangerous mental illness to have, but with the proper attention, it can be controlled, allowing one to live a relatively stable life. There are many different treatment options available to individuals with schizophrenia, but the best outcomes occur when these treatment plans are mixed. Sadly, schizophrenia is like many other mental illnesses in that people have a generally poor understanding of what exactly this disorder is, but the door for research is wide open and entered by many physicians and clinical psychologists. Despite the lack of understanding, learning what is currently known about the disorder can help save a life by allowing one to seek help before it is too late.

What Is Schizophrenia?

The name schizophrenia is somewhat deceptive because it is based on the Greek words schizo, split, and phren, mind. Schizophrenia is not the same as dissociative identity disorder, in which the individual reports have more than one personality. Instead, schizophrenia more refers to the mental fragmentation that occurs and contributes to its symptoms. Schizophrenia is most commonly categorized as a psychotic disorder because individuals afflicted with it typically lose touch with reality at some point during their disorder. With proper treatment, these individuals are often able to return to reality.

Schizophrenia usually begins in earnest around the late teens and early twenties. Many researchers believe this age of onset is related to the stressors of moving away from home and caring for oneself. The disorder can start early or late, but this is much less common. Interestingly, skilled clinicians can observe young children and predict with fairly decent accuracy if the child will develop schizophrenia later in life. Some of the symptoms are present in premature forms in these children. Further development of this technique could help clinicians prevent the disorder from developing in at-risk individuals.

Schizophrenia Symptoms

As stated, schizophrenia can be broken into three broad categories of symptoms. For each person, the symptoms can be more or less severe. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are those symptoms in which something is present that is not normally there. Symptoms of this type include:

  • Hallucinations: These can occur in gustation, touch, olfaction, vision, and audition; although, the most common are auditory hallucinations. When a hallucination happens, the brain perceives something to be there that is not.
  • Delusions: These are usually false beliefs in something that is incredibly hard to change despite the evidence presented. Many individuals believe that they are being sent messages by television shows or celebrities, but many other delusions are possible. Some individuals believe that they are a god, or even that they have powers that allow them to control the weather.
  • Movement: This refers to movement that is agitated and fidgety beyond what the individual normally displays.

Negative symptoms of schizophrenia are those that occur due to the loss of normal behaviors and emotions and include:

  • Flat Affect: The individual does not express emotion well. This is marked by a monotone voice and expressionless face.
  • Speech: The individual speaks less often.
  • Anhedonia: The individual has little interest in activities of daily living and hobbies, and they are less likely to begin and finish activities.

Cognitive symptoms affect an individual's memory or thinking, and this category includes:

  • Executive Functioning: This refers to a person's decision-making processes. In people with schizophrenia, it can be poor.
  • Attention: The individual may have issues paying attention and focusing on things.
  • Memory: The individual may have problems with working memory, meaning that it can be hard to use information immediately after learning it.

Treatment Options for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia can be treated with therapy and medication. The medications used most often are antipsychotics, and the most common type used today are the atypical antipsychotics, which produce fewer extrapyramidal side effects or drug-induced movement disorders. Many people have a negative association of antipsychotics as they appear to remove emotion, but many professionals believe these drugs treat positive symptoms rather than negative ones, leaving things like flat affect visible.

Therapy is also used to treat schizophrenia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on working through a person's thoughts and feelings and altering problem behaviors. Therapy is often not effective until medications have been administered. Along with therapy, case managers often help people with schizophrenia find work, support, and places to live. Research is still going on to find better drugs and therapies for schizophrenia so that the prognosis can be improved.

Schizophrenia is a challenging mental illness to live with, but it can be done with the proper treatment and support. By learning more about schizophrenia, one is better prepared to seek help when it is needed and be more accepting of those with the disorder. Though what schizophrenia truly is still unknown, many people are working hard to unmask this disorder and help those who have it.

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