Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic mental disorder that causes a person to experience psychotic episodes. This means a person may see, hear or think things are real when they actually aren't. In addition to these symptoms, a person with schizophrenia can have a "flat" affect where they lack expressiveness and have difficulty speaking and engaging in activities of everyday life.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition
that usually affects both men and women. Disease onset often occurs during sufferers' twenties but may begin earlier. While signs and symptoms vary among individual sufferers, they often include delusional thoughts (false beliefs that are not based upon reality), hallucinations, disorganized patterns of speaking, abnormal motor behaviors, reduced emotion or lack of personal care.
Often, sufferers don't realize they have a mental health problem, so it invariably falls to family to get them to a mental healthcare provider so they can be assessed and treated.
Why Is Schizophrenia Often Called a Genetic Disease?
Researchers have long known that schizophrenia often runs in families, though not always. It's only been recently that researchers have been able to determine that there isn't just one gene involved in schizophrenia onset, but there are several.
While individual genes have been found to impact the risk for disease development, they do not necessarily increase the risk for developing this disease. To date, having a close relative with schizophrenia is only associated with a 10% risk factor for developing this mental illness. Those most at risk are the identical twin of a twin with schizophrenia. Such an individual has a 50% chance of developing this disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia usually manifests itself earlier in men than women. Men are more likely to be diagnosed in the late teens to early 20s, while women are more likely to be diagnosed in their late 20s to early 30s.
To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person must experience their symptoms for at least six months. While people with schizophrenia may have a variety of symptoms, they will usually have most of the following symptoms:
- Delusions: A person will believe something is real when it is not. They may feel as if their thoughts are "blocked" or disrupted. An estimated 80 percent of people with schizophrenia experience delusions, according to Mayo Clinic.
- Disorganized thinking: Also known as cognitive symptoms, disorganized thinking occurs when a person cannot remember well or has difficulty organizing their thoughts. This makes it difficult for a person to think clearly.
- Hallucinations: A person sees, hears or smells things that other people don’t, including voices. Sometimes the voices a person hears may tell a person to harm themselves or, less commonly, others.
- Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms are those that take away a person's abilities to function in daily life. These symptoms are similar to those of depression. A person may appear to not enjoy anything and may appear emotionless.
Those with schizophrenia also may experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Living in fear from delusions and hallucinations can significantly affect a person's well-being.
Misconceptions and Portrayals of Schizophrenia in Popular Culture
The portrayal of those with schizophrenia in the movies, television and media can often present a violent picture of those with the disease. Those with schizophrenia are often portrayed as homicidal maniacs when, in reality, those with psychiatric conditions are actually more likely to be victims of violence.
Treatments for Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed. First, a diagnosis of schizophrenia must be made by mental healthcare providers who will rule out other disorders that may be associated with similar symptoms. Tests and screenings such as a CT scan and a psychological examination help medical professionals make this diagnosis. Examples of treatments for schizophrenia include:
- Antipsychotic medications, which are designed to regulate neurotransmitters that could contribute to hallucinations. Without antipsychotic medications, symptoms will return.
- Therapy, to help a person learn how to cope with the disorder and when symptoms may be worsening. Therapy must be lifelong even when no symptoms are present
- Family counseling, which helps the people supporting someone with schizophrenia understand their symptoms and how to help them.
Modern treatments have made a world of difference for people suffering with schizophrenia. With adequate treatment, sufferers can often live quite well while participating in outpatient treatment. The key to this disease is management.
Families can best show their support by ensuring that their loved ones suffering with schizophrenia have and are taking their medications and are attending therapy sessions. It's often helpful for families to be involved with their loved one's medical caregivers so they can get the information they need to best help their loved one manage their illness.
If you or someone you love is struggling with schizophrenia, reach out to us
. Here at Mental Health Center at Destination Hope, we have specialized treatment
for schizophrenia that could help improve the life of someone that has been diagnosed with the disorder.
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