5 Facts You Need to Know About Schizophrenia
At least two million Americans suffer from schizophrenia, a complex brain disorder that makes it difficult to regulate emotions, think clearly, and interact with others. And unfortunately, schizophrenia can be a challenging disorder to understand for both those diagnosed with it and those who want to know more. Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes schizophrenia, but the disease is often treatable and manageable.
Knowing some of the facts about the disease may help you understand the psychological condition.
1. Schizophrenia Often Starts During the Teenage Years
It’s not common for schizophrenia to develop in children. In fact, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 25. As such, it’s rare for schizophrenia to present itself before puberty.
Men tend to display symptoms earlier than women. They’re usually diagnosed as they approach their 20s. Women may not be diagnosed until they’re close to 30.
There are several theories as to why the disease often appears in young adults. Shifts in brain chemistry that occur with changes in hormone levels may be to blame. Some experts believe that estrogen, a hormone that becomes more abundant during puberty, may protect women from developing the disease until they’ve reached their 20s.
Because schizophrenia tends to crop up when adolescents are going through other emotional rollercoasters, the disease can be misdiagnosed or missed altogether. Symptoms tend to come on gradually and can be mistaken for teenage moodiness.
2. Most People Don’t Know They Have Schizophrenia When Symptoms Start
During the prodromal period of schizophrenia, symptoms gradually appear and worsen. This process can take weeks, months, or years. It’s not always easy to recognize symptoms of schizophrenia because they can mimic anxiety and depression.
Other symptoms include:
- Poor academic achievement;
- Sleeping difficulties, and;
- Changes in social life.
These challenges can appear for anyone at any time, though.
Major life changes, such as leaving the childhood home, graduating from college, getting married, and having children, can dramatically affect people’s moods. If these milestones are occurring at the same time as schizophrenia symptoms appear, the illness may be difficult to diagnose.
It’s never a bad idea to see a counselor when you’re not feeling like yourself. People don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to seek assistance with psychological or emotional difficulties. School counselors should be able to identify the disease.
Physicians can also keep track of their patients’ mental and emotional stability over time. Therefore, it’s important to attend regular wellness checkups.
3. Schizophrenia Can Cause Both Positive and Negative Symptoms
The symptoms of schizophrenia can be split into positive and negative symptoms.
Some symptoms of schizophrenia seem obvious once an individual is diagnosed. Those symptoms are overt and discernable.
They’re referred to as positive symptoms. That’s not because they’re good or beneficial. Positive symptoms are simply those that are overt.
Some examples of positive symptoms include:
- Hallucinations: These can involve any of your senses, including your sense of smell, taste, hearing touch, and seeing. People with this symptom may experience sensations that aren’t there.
- Delusions: These are beliefs about something that isn’t logical or true. For example, paranoia that someone is stalking the individual or the person with schizophrenia has a strange health problem.
- Confused Thoughts: Individuals with schizophrenia may not be able to organize their thoughts or follow a conversation.
- Disorganized Speech: This symptom makes people talk in ways that are jumbled or impossible to understand.
- Concentration Difficulties: People with schizophrenia may have a hard time following a topic or get jittery or antsy when they have to focus on something. They may lose their train of thought or be unable to comprehend a movie that they’re watching.
- Movement Problems: This positive symptom makes people appear restless or fidgety. However, some people with schizophrenia can sit in an unresponsive state for a long time.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia indicate a lack of typical mental functioning. These symptoms aren’t always as obvious as positive symptoms. You may notice that the individual is missing behavior adaptations that most people have.
Some examples of negative symptoms include:
- Anhedonia: This is an inability to feel or experience pleasure. People with this symptom may not feel as though they enjoy anything in their lives.
- Alogia: Some people with schizophrenia have a hard time speaking or expressing any feelings.
- Flattening: When feelings are flattened, people may not have the expected responses to other people or emotional situations. Someone with this symptom may seem “blah” or numb.
- Withdrawal: Many people with this disease isolate themselves, pulling away from friends, and showing no interest in their own life or other people’s lives.
- Poor Self-Care: This symptom presents itself as a struggle with daily activities and routines, including personal hygiene.
- Avolition: The lack of motivation to follow through with projects or activities can be mistaken for depression.
4. Diagnosing Schizophrenia Requires Special Testing
A conventional physician usually can’t diagnose schizophrenia. However, a primary care doctor can perform tests to ensure that the symptoms aren’t caused by another medical condition. Once your doctor rules out other problems, they may refer the patient to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
The mental health professional will interview the patient and ask about their psychological and medical histories. Psychiatric care providers use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to evaluate a patient’s symptoms.
There are several criteria for diagnosing schizophrenia, including:
- A patient has at least two core symptoms, one of which must be disorganized speech, hallucinations, or delusions for a minimum of one month;
- Self-care, personal relations, and motivation have diminished significantly since symptoms started;
- Disturbances are not caused by a substance abuse disorder or physical illness, and;
- Symptoms that indicate psychosis or loss of reality last for at least six months.
5. Treating Schizophrenia is a Lifelong Task
Schizophrenia can be managed with proper therapy. However, it’s not a one-and-done type of treatment. There is no cure for the disease, but medication and counseling can ease symptoms.
People with mild cases of the disease may not need medication. Those with severe schizophrenia can benefit from taking antipsychotic drugs. These pharmaceuticals help neurons communicate with each other properly and may relieve confused thinking, hallucinations, and delusions.
The goal of medication is to offer the lowest effective dose. Other medications, such as anti-anxiety pills and antidepressants, can help reduce symptoms.
People with schizophrenia must remain in treatment throughout their lives. Sometimes, the medication makes them feel better and they believe that they can stop taking it. No one should abandon or terminate their treatment plan without the advice of a medical professional.
Because some medications for schizophrenia can produce undesirable side effects, the patient should work with a team of health care professionals to ease those symptoms and manage the illness. Many people with this disease seek help and advice from people such as:
- Psychiatrists, psychologists or counselors;
- Psychiatric nurses;
- Social workers;
- Pharmacists, and/or;
- Case managers.
Individual, group, and family counseling can help people with schizophrenia cope with the disease and its symptoms. This type of therapy may allow them to live normal lives. Life skills training is also important for allowing people to function optimally.
Schizophrenia can be terrifying for the individual and their loved ones. However, treatment is possible and promising.
The best way to ensure that someone with schizophrenia can live a rewarding, fulfilling life is to address symptoms as soon as possible and seek professional help.