Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder involving delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and terrifying thoughts. Research has shown that approximately one percent of the population suffers from this condition.

The symptoms of schizophrenia most often become evident in early adulthood, beginning a bit earlier in men than in women. In addition to seeing and hearing things that are not present, schizophrenic patients may believe that other people have invaded their minds or controlled their thoughts. They may perceive themselves as being in grave danger. With such disturbing thoughts, it is no wonder that patients with this disorder behave in bizarre ways, express garbled ideas, and have difficulty living their lives in the real world.

Causes of Schizophrenia

Inroads have been made in the research of this disorder, which appears to have important genetic and environmental roots. There is evidence that schizophrenia runs in certain families. The risk of developing the condition increases significantly when an individual has a family member who suffers from the disease.

Genetic mutations and abnormalities in the brain are found much more frequently in patients with schizophrenia than in the average individual. It is postulated that there may be anomalies present at birth, which are further precipitated with changes occurring in the brain during puberty. It is unclear which environmental influences may be at play in the development of schizophrenia, but substance abuse may be a factor.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The symptoms are categorized into three groups:

     Positive Symptoms of Schizophrenia 
  • Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

     Cognitive Symptoms of Schizophrenia


The first two are observable, but the third category may only be diagnosable through psychological and neurological testing. Whatever the combination of symptoms experienced by the individual schizophrenic patient, these symptoms are disabling, leading to difficulty in relationships and employment.

Positive Symptoms
 

Patients with schizophrenia exhibit abnormal thinking and experience visual and auditory hallucinations. They may be plagued by delusions, or false beliefs and maybe awkward in their body movements.

Negative Symptoms

Schizophrenic patients may appear extremely detached, withdrawing from relationships and activities to the point that they seem not to be participating in everyday life. They may stop interacting with others, speak less and less, and even become unwilling or unable to maintain a regular hygiene routine.

Cognitive Symptoms

The cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are more subtle. These may appear as difficulties in absorbing information, problems with memory, and an inability to concentrate. Preoccupied with the troubled and troubling workings of their minds, patients become incapable of relating to, or coping with, the external world.

Treatment of Schizophrenia

While schizophrenia cannot be cured at present, there are various treatments for the disorder. These include a variety of psychotropic medications and several types of psychotherapy.

Medications

More and more antipsychotic medications are being researched and made available. Where decades ago there were only a few possible pharmacological treatments, there are now a great many. This is very important because many antipsychotics have serious side effects. Still, reactions may be somewhat idiosyncratic, so psychiatrists can use a trial and error method to see which medications are most effective and least troublesome. In addition to the old standbys like Thorazine and Haldol, a new generation of antipsychotics like Clozaril, Risperdal, and Abilify, became available in the 1990s. The newer, relatively unused medications have been beneficial to patients not responsive to earlier drugs.

Psychotherapy

Once psychotic symptoms are under some control, various forms of psychotherapy can help schizophrenic patients adjust to their illness. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been found to assist in symptom management. Whether provided as individual or group therapy, other psychosocial treatments can help patients improve their affected communication and life skills and refine their coping mechanisms. Patients receiving ongoing treatment are more likely to be medication compliant, and less likely to have relapses requiring hospitalization.

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