Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness, and it remains a challenge to fully understand the illness. It is a common mental disorder in the United States (Mayo Clinic). With approximately 200,000 new cases diagnosed per year, the disorder affects a person’s behavior and thinking. It is critical to identify the telltale signs and symptoms of schizophrenia in order to provide the necessary support and care to individuals suffering from the disorder.
While the causes of schizophrenia remain unknown, many researchers suggest it is caused by a combination of environmental, genetic, and neurobiological factors (National Health Service). Environmental factors are childhood trauma, drug abuse, and birth complications. In addition, chemical imbalance and brain development can also be affected by environmental factors. As schizophrenia can be passed down from parent to child, multiple genes can contribute to the cause of schizophrenia. However, according to the United National Health Service, it is important to note that genetics only play a contributing role in a minority of cases, with a probability of one in a hundred being the sole cause of schizophrenia. Another contributing factor to schizophrenia is neurobiology, especially focusing on changes in the levels of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin.
Schizophrenia leads to a variety of symptoms (Mayo Clinic). These symptoms include behavioral changes like delusions and hallucinations, which are also known as positive symptoms. Additionally, there is an inability to function normally, which involves a lack of motivation and withdrawal from social settings, known as negative symptoms. Lastly, there is a loss of focus, deteriorating memory, and decreased problem-solving capability, also known as cognitive symptoms.
Medical professionals diagnose individuals with schizophrenia based on the symptoms displayed by the patients. The earlier an individual is diagnosed with schizophrenia and treated, the better (National Health Service). To make a diagnosis, doctors usually run a physical exam and go through the person’s medical and family history. During the exam, the doctor may ask the patient to describe any concerning experiences. The doctor may use additional tests for a diagnosis, like an MRI and blood tests. For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, an individual must have experienced at least two of the following symptoms within a one-month period, with some level of disturbance being present for six months:
- Delusions: a false belief, such as the feeling of being stalked.
- Hallucinations: hearing voices or seeing things that are not there.
- Disorganized Speech: slurred speech or incoherent sentences.
- Reduced ability to function: difficulty to perform basic tasks.
Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment even if the symptoms seem to have subsided (Mayo Clinc). Treatment can range from psychotherapy to hospitalization. The treatment usually involves a psychiatrist, a social worker, a psychiatric nurse, and a case manager to coordinate care. Medication is another way to treat schizophrenia, such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety drugs. It may take several weeks to observe noticeable results when taking prescribed medications. Due to side effects, many people hesitate to take medication. The most common medication prescribed is antipsychotics. Some examples of antipsychotics are Abilify (aripiprazole), Clozaril (clozapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine), Seroquel (quetiapine), and Risperdal (risperidone). They are designed to control symptoms by affecting the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The goal of antipsychotic medication treatment is to effectively manage signs and symptoms at the lowest possible dose. Some of the side effects include muscle spasms, drowsiness, weight gain, and a dry mouth.
While the symptoms of schizophrenia can be treated, the disorder has no known cure (American Psychiatric Association). Living with schizophrenia can be difficult. However, symptoms can be reduced by understanding certain triggers that aggravate the disorder. Avoiding drugs, alcohol, smoking, and maintaining good physical health will help in reducing schizophrenic episodes. Keeping a journal that focuses on individuals’ day-to-day life will help in identifying which activities trigger certain symptoms that ultimately lead to episodes. Another way to make a living with schizophrenia easier would be to have a strong support group. Friends and family play a key role in helping with recovery from schizophrenia and the reduction of relapses. The support group can help by monitoring the individual’s mental state and providing reminders to take medications or attend appointments.
Schizophrenia is a multifaceted mental illness that affects many individuals and their loved ones. Episodes can occur due to a combination of environmental, genetic, and neurobiological factors that can lead to a variety of complex symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for managing symptoms and improving quality of life. It is important to raise awareness about schizophrenia to reduce stigma and increase understanding. We should encourage those with schizophrenia to seek treatment and support from mental health professionals, family, and friends. By working together, we can improve the lives of those with schizophrenia and their families, as well as promote a more compassionate and inclusive society.
Read more articles on social-emotional and mental health on our Zealousness blog Social-emotional and mental health – iN Education Inc. (ineducationonline.org).
- Mayo Clinic. “Schizophrenia – Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic. Last modified 2018. Accessed February 27, 2023. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443.
- “Living with – Schizophrenia.” nhs.uk. Last modified February 12, 2021. Accessed February 27, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/living-with/.
- NYU Langone Health. “Diagnosing Schizophrenia.” Nyulangone.org. Accessed February 27, 2023. https://nyulangone.org/conditions/schizophrenia/diagnosis.
- Brown, Alan S. “The Environment and Susceptibility to Schizophrenia.” Progress in Neurobiology 93, no. 1 (January 2011): 23–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2010.09.003.
- “Diagnosis – Schizophrenia.” nhs.uk, February 12, 2021. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/diagnosis/#:~:text=Schizophrenia%20can%20usually%20be%20diagnosed
- Mclean Hospital. “Schizophrenia: What You Need to Know.” McLean Hospital. Accessed February 27, 2023. https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/schizophrenia.
- John Lauriello, Juan R. Bustillo, and Kelly C. Shingler, “The First Interview of a Patient with Psychosis: Symptoms, Safety, and Stabilization,” (January 29, 2015), Focus (accessed February 27, 2023), https://focus.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/foc.2.1.7