In the world of misunderstood mental illnesses, schizophrenia has a particularly bad reputation. A person with this condition exhibits disordered thoughts, abnormal speech and behavior, and altered perceptions of reality such as visual or auditory hallucinations. The disorder is usually associated with violent criminals or psychopaths in movies and television shows, but in reality, schizophrenia affects a diverse range of people, including some who are able to lead satisfying, normal lives through therapy and medication. The following facts and info about schizophrenia will help you better understand how it works, what it feels like, and what some of the possible causes could be:
1. Schizophrenia does not involve split personalities
“Schizophrenia” is a term that derives from the Greek “skhizein,” which means “to split apart,” and “phren,” which means “mind,” so it’s easy to see why the condition has long been equated with things like having a split personality (dissociative identity disorder) and bipolar disorder. Dissociative identity disorder is when a person alternates between two or more identities, each with distinct characteristics. Schizophrenia, in contrast, is characterized by auditory and visual hallucinations, amnesia, and altered perceptual experiences that have nothing to do with changes in personality. The association between schizophrenia and split personalities is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the disorder.
2. Despite what you may have heard, people with schizophrenia are not inherently violent or dangerous
The portrayal of schizophrenia in popular culture has contributed greatly to its stigmatization. Schizophrenia is one of the most widely sensationalized mental illnesses in film and television, and far too often grossly misrepresented. For a study published in 2012, researchers analyzed 41 movies with schizophrenic characters and found 83 percent of them depicted their characters as dangerous to themselves or others. A third of them showed their characters as homicidal. In reality, those suffering from schizophrenia rarely commit acts of violence, and they are not any more doomed to become criminals than anyone else. Real symptoms that are much more common in schizophrenia, such as depressive feelings and lack of expression, are seldom seen on screen.
3. Symptoms of schizophrenia usually emerge in adolescence
The majority of people with schizophrenia develop it fairly early in life. Late adolescence and early adulthood are the most common times for symptoms to appear. Women tend to experience schizophrenia slightly later in life, in their late 20s and early 30s, as compared to male patients who usually develop it in their late teens or early 20s. Adolescence marks a period of major brain development that puts the brain at risk for psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
4. Schizophrenia manifests both “positive” and “negative” symptoms
In this case, positive and negative don’t mean good and bad. The term positive refers to schizophrenia symptoms like paranoid thoughts and hallucinations, which should not occur in a healthy individual. Negative symptoms include healthy traits that patients lack, such as motivation, interest in life, and coherent speech. As a final category, cognitive symptoms include disorganized thinking, memory gaps, and other signs of mental dysfunction.
5. Schizophrenia has genetic and environmental causes
Schizophrenia has not been traced to a single cause. Researchers suspect genetics is at least partially responsible because people with a parent or direct relative with schizophrenia are more likely to develop it themselves. However, they believe that this is the result of a cocktail of genetic factors and not one specific mutation. There’s also a connection between schizophrenia and environmental factors. Schizophrenia is often triggered by early childhood trauma or substance abuse in those who may already be predisposed to it.
6. Schizophrenia may increase the risk of other health issues
Schizophrenia patients experience a greater risk of suffering from issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and smoking-related lung disease, according to studies conducted by the NIMH. In these cases, under-treatment or non-detection of these conditions can lead to death. Additionally, individuals with schizophrenia are at a higher risk of suicide. The combination of these factors leaves people living with schizophrenia at an overall higher risk of premature death than the general population.
7. Schizophrenia often occurs in conjunction with other mental illnesses
Schizophrenia patients are also at greater risk of developing a variety of different mental illnesses. People with schizophrenia are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Several schizophrenic symptoms can overlap with depression symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and a loss of interest in life.
8. The only way to diagnose schizophrenia is through a combination of tests.
The symptoms of schizophrenia aren’t the only thing to consider when diagnosing this condition, but also how long they last, how they manifest in a person’s daily life, and how they interfere with work, relationships, and self-care. It’s also important to rule out other influences that can cause schizophrenia-like symptoms, such as bipolar disorder and substance use. In order to assess such symptoms, doctors might conduct a physical examination, conduct drug and alcohol screenings, and have psychiatric evaluations conducted to assess positive symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
9. There are a variety of treatment options available for schizophrenia patients
Although schizophrenia has no cure, it is highly treatable. Antipsychotic medications which target the neurotransmitter dopamine are commonly prescribed to patients with good success. Various forms of psychosocial therapy, such as the assertive community treatment programs offered here at LAT, are another common and effective treatment option for people with schizophrenia. It’s important to remember that there is hope. In the majority of cases, people with schizophrenia can recover from their illness and lead fulfilling lives with the proper treatment and care.
Life Adjustment Team
If you or someone you know is suffering from Schizophrenia, schedule an appointment with Life Adjustment Team today. Our team of mental health professionals will create a custom program for you or your loved one back on track and living their most authentic life.