Considered to be one of the most chronically debilitating of all mental illnesses, schizophrenia causes those suffering from it to experience significant misinterpretations of the world around them. These individuals can have difficulty thinking clearly, expressing feelings appropriately, and distinguishing between what is real and what is not. Due to the disabling effects of this illness, schizophrenia can cause individuals to experience a great deal of emotional and physical distress, as well as difficulty in maintaining proper functioning on a daily basis. However, with proper treatment and medication, these effects can be successfully managed.
Schizophrenia is believed to affect approximately 3.2 million people in the United States and about 1.1% of the world’s population. Both men and women are equally affected by the disorder, and the average age of onset occurs between late-teens and mid-thirties. Research has shown that it is extremely uncommon for individuals to experience an initial onset of the illness after the age of 45.
Causes and Risk Factors of Schizophrenia
The causes that lead to the onset of schizophrenia are not believed to be one single factor, but rather a number of different factors working together that play a role in the development of its symptoms.
Genetic: Researchers and other experts in the field believe that there is a strong genetic link in regards to the development of schizophrenia due to the fact that the illness is known to run in families. It has been estimated that people who have an immediate, blood-related relative who has schizophrenia are at a 10% higher risk of developing the disorder than do those without such family history.
Physical: The chemicals in the brain that play a major role in managing one’s moods and emotions are dopamine and serotonin. When the levels of these chemicals are either too high or too low, the symptoms of schizophrenia may develop.
Environmental: Some scientists have reported that environmental factors can have a significant role in the onset of an illness. The most commonly cited of these factors include being exposed to viruses prenatally or the presence of extreme complications during the birthing process, both of which can potentially lead to the future development of schizophrenia.
- Family history of mental illness
- Personal history of diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness
- Having an autoimmune disease
- Exposure to viruses while in utero
- Malnutrition while in utero
- Taking mind-altering substances
- Having a father who is of advanced age
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
In contrast to many other mental illnesses that are typically broken down by behavioral, physical, or emotional symptoms, the symptoms of schizophrenia are instead characterized by positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.
Positive symptoms: Positive symptoms refer to added behaviors that, without the presence of schizophrenia, individuals would not experience, including:
- Movement disorders
- Thought disorders
Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms refer to behaviors that are taken away from a person. In other words, they are behaviors that, without the presence of schizophrenia, an individual would be able to maintain. This type of symptoms includes:
- Inability to maintain appropriate personal hygiene
- Inability to articulate thoughts
- Inability to speak
- Isolating oneself
- Flat affect
- Loss of interest in things
- Lacking any type of enthusiasm
Cognitive symptoms: Cognitive symptoms refer to the deficits that the presence of schizophrenia inflicts upon a person and can include:
- Impaired / poor executive functioning capabilities
- Inability to concentrate
- Significant memory problems
Effects of Schizophrenia
When treatment for schizophrenia is not received, the long-term effects that this illness can have on an individual’s life may include:
- Financial discord / poverty
- Chronic substance abuse
- Overwhelming paranoia
- Extreme phobias
- Strained or destroyed interpersonal relationships
People who have schizophrenia may also suffer from another mental illness as well. Additionally, individuals who are living with undiagnosed schizophrenia may begin to experience the onset of symptoms that may be indicative of other disorders as well. Examples of the various disorders that can potentially co-occur with schizophrenia may include:
- Social anxiety disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Schizotypal disorder