What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a brain chemistry disorder that affects how a person acts, thinks and sees the world. People with schizophrenia have an altered perception of reality, often a significant loss of contact with reality. They may see or hear things that don’t exist, speak in strange or confusing ways, believe that others are trying to harm them or feel like they are constantly being watched.
With such a blurred line between the real and the imaginary, schizophrenia makes it difficult—even frightening—to negotiate daily life activities. In response, people with schizophrenia may withdraw from the outside world or act out in confusion and fear.
The Most Common Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia
• Social withdrawal
• Hostility or suspiciousness
• Deterioration of personal hygiene
• Flat, expressionless gaze
• Inability to cry or express joy
• Inappropriate laughter or crying
• Oversleeping or insomnia
• Odd or irrational statements
• Forgetful, unable to concentrate
• Extreme reaction to criticism
• Strange use of words or way of speaking
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
A delusion is a firmly held idea that a person has despite clear and unmistakable evidence that it isn’t true. Delusions are very common in schizophrenia, occurring in more than 90% of patients. Often, these delusions involve illogical or bizarre ideas or fantasies.
Hallucinations are sounds or other sensations experienced as real when they exist only in the person’s mind. The hallucinations can involve any of the five senses. However, auditory hallucinations (e.g. hearing voices or some other sound) are most common in schizophrenia. Visual hallucinations are also relatively common.
People with schizophrenia tend to have trouble concentrating and maintaining a train of thought. They may respond to queries with an unrelated answer, start sentences with one topic and end somewhere completely different, speak incoherently or say illogical things.
Schizophrenia disrupts goal-directed activity, causing impairments in a person’s ability to take care of him or herself, work and interact with others.
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia refer to the absence of normal behaviours found in healthy individuals.
- Flattened or blunted affect: Lack of emotional
- Avolition: Lack of interest or enthusiasm
- Catatonia: Apparent unawareness of the environment, the near-total absence of motion and speech
- Alogia: Difficulties with speech, inability to carry a conversation
Causes of Schizophrenia
Genetic causes of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia has a strong hereditary component. People with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who have schizophrenia will have a 10% chance of developing the disorder instead of the 1% chance of the general population. However, schizophrenia is influenced by genetics, not determined by it.
Environmental Causes of schizophrenia
Twin and adoption studies suggest that inherited genes make a person vulnerable to schizophrenia. At the same time, environmental factors act on this vulnerability to trigger the disorder. Research points increasingly to stress during brain development at pregnancy or a later stage. High levels of stress could trigger schizophrenia by increasing the body’s production of the hormone cortisol.
Brain Chemical Imbalances
There is evidence that chemical imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, proteins and amino acids play a role in causing schizophrenia.
- Dopamine – The dopamine hypothesis suggests that an excess of dopamine in the brain contributes to schizophrenia.
- Glutamate – Glutamate is another important neurotransmitter implicated in schizophrenia. Studies show under-active levels of glutamate in schizophrenic patients.
Abnormal Brain Structure
In addition to abnormal brain chemistry, abnormalities in brain structure may also play a role in schizophrenia. Enlarged brain ventricles are seen in some people with schizophrenia, indicating a deficit in brain tissue volume. There is also evidence of abnormally low activity in the frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning and decision-making.
Effects of Schizophrenia
Relationship problems – People with schizophrenia often withdraw and isolate themselves. Schizophrenia causes significant disruptions to daily functioning because of social difficulties and because everyday tasks become hard, if not impossible, to do.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse – In an attempt to self-medicate or relieve symptoms, substances are often abused.
Increased Suicide Risk – People with schizophrenia have a high risk of attempting suicide.
Treatment of Schizophrenia
Medication is essential to help to control the symptoms. Treatment is of long duration and compliance with medication is permanent.
Common Misconceptions about Schizophrenia
MYTH: Schizophrenia refers to a “split personality” or multiple personalities.
FACT: Multiple personality disorder is a different and much less common disorder than schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia do not have split personalities. Instead, they are “split off” from reality.
MYTH: Schizophrenia is a rare condition.
FACT: Schizophrenia is not rare; the lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia is widely accepted as around 1 in 100.
MYTH: People with schizophrenia are dangerous.
FACT: Although the delusional thoughts and hallucinations of schizophrenia sometimes lead to violent behaviour, most people with schizophrenia are neither violent nor a danger to others.
MYTH: People with schizophrenia can’t be helped.
FACT: While They may require long-term treatment, but the outlook for schizophrenia is not hopeless. When treated properly, many people with schizophrenia can enjoy life and function within their families and communities.