What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is one of the most complex of all mental health disorders. It is a severe, chronic, and disabling disturbance of the brain that causes distorted thinking, strange feelings, and unusual behavior and use of language and words. What causes schizophrenia?
There is no known single cause responsible for schizophrenia. It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor which is necessary for schizophrenia to develop. However, it is likely that many factors - genetic, behavioral, and environmental - play a role in the development of this condition.
Schizophrenia is considered to be multifactorially inherited. Multifactorial inheritance means that "many factors" are involved. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to unknown environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often, one gender (either males or females) is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits. There appears to be a different threshold of expression, which means that one gender is more likely to show the problem, over the other gender. Slightly more males develop schizophrenia in childhood; however, by adolescence, schizophrenia affects males and females equally. Who is affected by schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is uncommon in children under the age of 12 and hard to identify in the early phases. A sudden onset of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia frequently occurs in middle to late adolescence. Statistics indicate that schizophrenia affects approximately 2.7 million Americans. A child born into a family with one or more family members affected by schizophrenia has a greater chance of developing schizophrenia than a child born into a family with no history of schizophrenia.
After a person has been diagnosed with schizophrenia in a family, the chance for a sibling to also be diagnosed with schizophrenia is 7 to 8 percent. If a parent has schizophrenia, the chance for a child to have the disorder is 10 percent. Risks increase with multiple affected family members. What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
In children with schizophrenia, behavior changes may occur slowly, over time, or have a sudden onset. The child may gradually become more shy and withdrawn. They may begin to talk about bizarre ideas or fears and begin to cling more to parents. One of the most disturbing and puzzling characteristics of schizophrenia is the sudden onset of its psychotic symptoms. "Psychotic" refers to ideas, perceptions, or feelings that are grossly distorted from reality. The following are the most common symptoms of schizophrenia. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.
Early warning signs of schizophrenia in children may include:
- distorted perception of reality (difficulty telling dreams from reality)
- confused thinking (i.e., confusing television with reality)
- detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas
- suspiciousness and/or paranoia (fearfulness that someone, or something, is going to harm them)
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real such as hearing voices telling them to do something)
- delusions (ideas that seem real but are not based in reality)
- extreme moodiness
- severe anxiety and/or fearfulness
- flat affect (lack of emotional expression when speaking)
- difficulty in performing schoolwork
- social withdrawal (severe problems in making and keeping friends)
- disorganized or catatonic behavior (suddenly becoming agitated and confused, or sitting and staring, as if immobilized)
- odd behaviors (i.e., an older child may regress significantly and begin acting like a younger child)
The symptoms of schizophrenia are often classified as positive (symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre behavior), negative (symptoms including flat affect, withdrawal, and emotional unresponsiveness), disorganized speech (including speech that is incomprehensible), and disorganized or catatonic behavior (including marked mood swings, sudden aggression, or confusion, followed by sudden motionlessness and staring). The symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults, however, children, more often (in 80 percent of diagnosed cases), experience auditory hallucinations and typically do not experience delusions or formal thought disorders until mid-adolescence or older. The symptoms of schizophrenia may resemble other problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis. Schizophrenia is Treatable
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that has affected people throughout history. About 1 percent of Americans have this illness. With antipsychotic medications, schizophrenia symptoms such as feeling agitated and having hallucinations usually go away within days. Symptoms such as delusions usually go away within a few weeks. After about six weeks, many people will see a lot of improvement. Types of Symptoms: Positive
Positive symptoms (such as hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders, and movement disorders) are psychotic behaviors not seen in healthy people. People with positive symptoms often “lose touch” with reality. These symptoms can come and go. Sometimes they’re severe and other times they’re hardly noticeable, depending on whether the person is receiving treatment. Types of Symptoms: Negative
Negative symptoms (such as lack of pleasure, lack of ability to plan/start/complete activities, and social withdrawal) are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. These symptoms are hard to recognize as part of the disorder and can be mistaken for depression or other conditions. Types of Symptoms: Cognitive
Cognitive symptoms (such as poor ability to understand information and make plans, trouble focusing/paying attention, inability to use newly learned information to solve problems) are often subtle. Like negative symptoms, cognitive symptoms may be difficult to recognize as part of the disorder. Cognitive symptoms often make it hard to lead a normal life and earn a living. They can cause great emotional distress. Schizophrenics Usually Aren't Violent
In fact, most violent crimes are not committed by people with schizophrenia. Substance abuse may increase the chance a person will become violent. If a person with schizophrenia becomes violent, it is usually directed at family members and tends to take place at home. Suicide Risk is High
People with the illness attempt suicide much more often than others. About 10 percent die by suicide, especially young adult males. It’s hard to predict which people with schizophrenia are prone to suicide. The Substance Abuse Connection
Some people who abuse drugs show symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. Therefore, people with schizophrenia may be mistaken for people who are affected by drugs. People who have schizophrenia are much more likely to have a substance or alcohol abuse problem than the general population. Some drugs, such as marijuana, amphetamines, or cocaine, may make symptoms worse. Help for Everyday Challenges
Psychosocial treatments can help people with schizophrenia who are already stabilized on antipsychotic medication. Psychosocial treatments help these people deal with the everyday challenges of the illness, such as difficulty with communication, self-care, work, and forming and keeping relationships. Learning and using coping mechanisms to address these problems allows people with schizophrenia to socialize and attend school and work. Medication Can Have Side Effects
Some people experience side effects when they start taking medication for schizophrenia. Most of these effects go away after a few days and often can be managed successfully. They may include drowsiness, dizziness when changing positions, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, sensitivity to the sun, skin rashes, and menstrual problems in women.
Typical antipsychotic medications can cause side effects related to physical movement, such as rigidity, persistent muscle spasms, tremors, and restlessness. Atypical antipsychotic medications can cause major weight gain and changes in metabolism. Medication Compliance Matters
Some people stop taking their medication because they feel better or think they don’t need it anymore. But no one should stop taking an antipsychotic medication without talking with his or her doctor. When a doctor says it’s okay to stop taking a medication, it should be gradually tapered off, never stopped suddenly.
It's confusing when your own reality seems out of sync with the rest of the world's view of things. You might jump to the conclusion that the problem is schizophrenia. But other conditions can also cause symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Getting a correct diagnosis is the first - and very important - step toward finding effective help.