One of the most serious mental health conditions that can be diagnosed in a person is schizophrenia. Characterized by the presence of symptoms that adversely affect how a person thinks and acts, this disorder can cause insurmountable disruption to a person’s life. The ability to think clearly, decipher between what is real and what is not, and appropriately expressing emotions are all compromised when this disorder is present. Furthermore, the symptoms associated with schizophrenia can cause a great deal of distress for a person such that delusions and hallucinations can cause intense feelings of fear, paranoia, and worry on an ongoing basis.
Neglecting to treat this condition can also bring about a number of consequences that can jeopardize a person’s livelihood and health. Substance abuse, self-harm, and engaging in other risky behaviors are common among those who do not seek treatment for schizophrenia. However, this mental health condition is very treatable and can help people afflicted by it learn to manage symptoms and lead healthy, functional lives. The combination of medications and therapeutic interventions have proven successful in restoring functioning and reducing the chances of a person experiencing the detrimental effects that can occur when grappling with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that is believed to affect an estimated 24 million people worldwide. The World Health Organization determined that nearly half of those diagnosed with schizophrenia do not receive treatment for this severe mental health disorder. Lastly, it has been said that schizophrenia affects men and women equally and that every person has a 1% chance of eventually displaying signs and symptoms at some point in life.
Causes and Risk Factors for Schizophrenia
Genetics, physiological make up, environment, and other risk factors are believed to contribute to the development of schizophrenia. Listed are explanations that support this belief:
Genetics: Research has concluded that schizophrenia can be heritable. The reason for this conclusion is due to the fact that this mental health condition has been found to run in families. Furthermore, additional research has found that those with a family history of schizophrenia account for 10% of all people who meet criteria for a schizophrenia diagnosis.
Physical: Deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters are known to occur in those with schizophrenia. Dopamine and serotonin, chemicals in the brain that are responsible for regulating emotions, have been found in lower amounts in the brains of those with schizophrenia and could explain the manifestation of symptoms of this disorder. Additionally, neuroimaging studies have concluded that individuals suffering from schizophrenia exhibit structural changes in their brains as the ventricle lobes of these individuals are found to be enlarged.
Environmental: Certain environmental influences are known to trigger the onset of schizophrenia symptoms. Prenatal exposure to toxins and viruses, as well as poor nutrition while in utero, is known to increase the likelihood that a person will eventually display signs and symptoms of this mental disorder. Complications during childbirth are also believed to increase the risk as trauma to the brain can also contribute to the development of schizophrenia.
- Family history of schizophrenia or other mental health conditions
- Preexisting or undiagnosed mental health condition or conditions
- Prenatal exposure to toxins, viruses, or poor nutrition
- Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease
- Using or abusing substances that alters one’s mood
- Having a biological father who is of advanced age
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Sufferers of schizophrenia exhibit signs and symptoms that are classified into three types of symptoms that could be present. Broken down into negative, positive, and cognitive symptoms, the following are signs and symptoms of this mental health condition:
Negative symptoms: These symptoms are ones that involve the absence of certain behaviors that would otherwise be present if an individual was not diagnosed with schizophrenia:
- Poor personal hygiene
- Isolation from others
- Loss of speech
- Declined interest in things that were once enjoyed
- Lack of facial expression
- Inability to concentrate
Positive symptoms: Thoughts, behaviors, and speech are affected when positive symptoms are present and include the following:
- Illogical speech
- Disorganized behaviors
Cognitive symptoms: Cognitive deficits are known to occur when an individual has schizophrenia. Examples of these deficits are:
- Memory impairments
- Extreme difficulty with retaining focus
- Diminished executive functioning
Effects of Schizophrenia
Depending on the severity of symptoms present, untreated schizophrenia can cause a great deal of devastation in a person’s life. The listed effects are known to occur when a person is not receiving care to reduce symptoms of this mental health condition:
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Increased conflict with others
- Substance abuse, addiction, or dependence
- Interaction with the legal system
- Suicidal ideation
It is common for those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia to meet diagnostic criteria for another mental health condition. The following mental illnesses can occur alongside schizophrenia:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
- Paranoid personality disorder
- Schizotypal personality disorder
- Substance use disorders