No one experiences schizophrenia the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of schizophrenia is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.
Learn about schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can cause significant impairment in a person’s daily functioning. Known to be one of the most debilitating mental illnesses, this disorder includes symptoms that are so severe that an individual may begin to self-harm or attempt to end his or her own life if treatment is not sought. The positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms can hinder a person from knowing what is real and what is imagined and thinking clearly, and can decrease a person’s ability to express feelings appropriately. Social isolation is common in those with schizophrenia because symptoms can make interacting with the outside world ripe with obstacles, frustrations, and fear. Substance use is also common as those with this condition try to self-medicate to alleviate symptoms. However, with treatment and the inclusion of psychotropic medications that help alleviate symptoms, it is possible that a person can regain healthy functioning and reduce the harmful risks associated with schizophrenia.
Research estimates that 1% of the total population meets criteria for a schizophrenia diagnosis. With the typical age of onset being between late adolescence and early to mid-adulthood, schizophrenia affects men and women equally. However, experiencing the onset of symptoms over the age of forty-five is uncommon.
Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia
Experts believe that a number of factors working in tandem can make a person more susceptible to the development of schizophrenia. Below are the findings associated with this belief:
Genetic: Individuals with an immediate family member who is suffering from schizophrenia make up 10% of those who possess their own schizophrenia diagnosis. Because of this link, researchers have concluded that genetics play a big role in determining whether or not an individual will begin to show signs and symptoms of schizophrenia at some point in his or her lifetime.
Physical: Research has shown that those with schizophrenia have lowered levels of dopamine and serotonin in their brains. When these mood-managing neurotransmitters are at decreased levels, symptoms synonymous with schizophrenia can manifest.
Environmental: Scientists have found that certain environmental factors can cause a person to develop schizophrenia. Malnutrition and exposure to certain viruses while a baby is in utero have led some people to display signs and symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Additionally, complications that occur during childbirth can cause the onset of schizophrenia at some point in a person’s lifetime.
- Family history of schizophrenia or other mental illnesses
- Personal history of mental illness or undiagnosed mental illness
- Preexisting autoimmune disease
- Being born to a father who is of advanced age
- Prenatal exposure to poor nutrition or viruses
- Consuming mood-altering substances
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia
Indicators that a person is suffering from schizophrenia are divided into three subsets of symptoms and can occur without warning. Listed are the signs and symptoms that infer a person is suffering from schizophrenia:
Positive symptoms: These symptoms are behaviors or thoughts that are added to an individual’s thought or behavior patterns that an individual without this mental illness would not normally possess:
- Disorganized or incoherent speech
- Disorganized or repetitious behaviors
Negative symptoms: These symptoms present as a removal of behaviors or abilities that someone without schizophrenia would still be able to do:
- Decline in interest or enthusiasm
- Flat affect or diminished facial expression
- Inability to speak
- Poor concentration
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Social isolation
Cognitive symptoms: Deficits in an individual’s cognition are known to occur when a person has schizophrenia. Examples of these deficits include:
- Impaired executive functioning
- Memory problems
- Lack of focus
Effects of schizophrenia
Untreated schizophrenia can render a number of devastating effects. Not only can a person’s mental well-being be adversely affected, but several other areas of a person life can be impacted. Depending on the severity of symptoms presents, the following effects could occur as a result:
- Increased levels of impairing anxiety
- Escalating paranoia
- Development of phobias
- Problems with drugs or alcohol
- Inability to secure or maintain employment
- Decrease in quantity or quality of interpersonal relationships / divorce
- Suicidal ideations or attempts
Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders
Often times, those suffering from schizoaffective disorder are suffering from another mental illness at the same time. Below are mental health conditions that can exist alongside schizoaffective disorder:
- Anxiety disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Substance use disorder