I. The Basics of Schizophrenia

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that is classified as severe. It impacts how an individual’s brain works. Persons with this disorder may not be able to effectively manage their emotions, may have difficulty consistently making decisions, and may be unable to relate appropriately to others. They may also experience visual or auditory hallucinations or have paranoid beliefs. These symptoms all combine to make it difficult for someone with unmanaged schizophrenia to live a healthy, normal life.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Researchers have been unable to find a specific cause for schizophrenia. Instead, medical research indicates that a number of factors might increase someone’s risk of suffering from schizophrenia. As with other mental health disorders, genetics, environment, and brain chemistry can all be factors.

Someone who has a close relative with schizophrenia is around six times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. Individuals who were exposed to malnutrition or viruses before birth or who have certain autoimmune disorders may also be at increased risk of this mental health issue.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that some studies have drawn a correlation between the abuse of mind-altering substances as a young adult and schizophrenia diagnoses.

Schizophrenia by the Numbers

Schizophrenia is less common than other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Prevalence statistics regarding schizophrenia tend to change in various studies, but the range for adults in the United States is typically from 0.25% to 0.64%, regardless of studies.

Even with a relatively small prevalence compared to other mental health disorders, the impact of schizophrenia is anything but small. According to the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study, schizophrenia was among the top 15 causes of disability around the world.

Statistics surrounding schizophrenia illustrate how serious this illness can be. Around 4.9% of people diagnosed with the disorder die by suicide, compared to less than 0.02% of the general population in the United States.

II. Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The American Psychiatric Association divides the common symptoms of schizophrenia into four main categories: positive psychotic symptoms, negative symptoms, disorganization symptoms, and cognitive impairment symptoms.

What the APA calls positive psychotic symptoms aren’t “good” symptoms that one experiences. They are, instead, additions to the “normal” belief system and experiences of a person. Individuals who are experiencing these symptoms may hear voices that aren’t there or have paranoid delusions that cause them to see a reality that isn’t present. They may also have distorted belief systems and perceptions that lead to paranoia, such as believing someone is always watching them or that an inanimate object in their home is listening to them.

Negative symptoms refer to individuals either losing or not having a normal emotional or physical capability. Persons with severe schizophrenia may be unable to speak, emote, or plan normally, for example. They may also be unable to experience pleasure normally or at all.

Disorganization and cognitive impairment symptoms both refer to how the person thinks and reacts to situations around them. Individuals with schizophrenia may have problems concentrating or paying attention and could struggle with memory and focus. They might also demonstrate confused or disordered behavior and speech or even bizarre behavior.

III. Treatment for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is not curable. MentalHealth.gov refers to it as a lifelong brain disorder that typically begins in the late teens or 20s for men and the 20s and 30s for women.

However, that doesn’t mean the disorder is not treatable. Many times, by learning to treat and manage the symptoms of their disorder, individuals with schizophrenia can lead longer or healthier lives. Common treatments for schizophrenia include medications, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments.

  • Medications. Typically the medical recommendation for treating schizophrenia includes antipsychotic medications. These may be prescribed to help someone who is experiencing the psychotic symptoms associated with this disorder, such as hallucinations or paranoia. Doctors may also prescribe other medications to treat related symptoms or disorders, such as if the person is also experiencing depression. In many cases, you might need to work closely with your medical provider to find the right level of medication for you, which means keeping regular doctors’
  • Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of talk therapy can help individuals to retrain their negative thoughts and develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with some symptoms of schizophrenia. In most cases, providers typically suggest a combination of therapy and medication in a comprehensive treatment plan. Depending on the level of schizophrenia symptoms you are dealing with at a given time, medical providers may recommend starting medication and therapy within an inpatient environment for increased safety and potentially better long-term results.
  • Lifestyle changes. Individuals with schizophrenia may benefit from education about their disease and skills training that helps them to develop a better ability to integrate into everyday Other supporting treatments might include family therapy or education.

Schizophrenia is a complex disorder that can require a comprehensive treatment approach. Individuals who believe they are experiencing the symptoms of this disorder — or who are seeing these symptoms in a loved one — should reach out for professional assistance in properly diagnosing any issue and understanding options for treatment.

IV. How to Get Help & Additional Resources

This guide is meant to be informative in nature only. It’s meant to provide education to the public about schizophrenia and does not represent diagnostic or treatment advice. If you are dealing with any of the symptoms or issues described above, please contact a medical provider for assistance.

V. Sources