Overview

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people misinterpret reality. Schizophrenia affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves and it impairs their daily functioning. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which causes significant distress for the individual, their family members, and friends. If left untreated, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be persistent and disabling. However, effective treatments are available. When delivered in a timely, coordinated, and sustained manner, treatment can help affected individuals to engage in school or work, achieve independence, and enjoy personal relationships.

Schizophrenia is typically diagnosed in the late teen years to the early thirties and tends to emerge earlier in males than females.

Symptoms

 

Psychotic symptoms include altered perceptions (e.g., changes in vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste), abnormal thinking, and odd behaviors.

  • Hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Delusions are false beliefs that are not based in reality such as, paranoia – irrational fears that others are “out to get you” or believing that you have exceptional fame or abilities, or another person is in love with you or major catastrophe is about to occur.
  • Thought disorder, which includes unusual thinking or disorganized speech

Negative symptoms include loss of motivation, disinterest, or lack of enjoyment in daily activities, social withdrawal, difficulty showing emotions, and difficulty functioning normally.

Cognitive symptoms include problems in attention, concentration, and memory. Difficulty processing information to make decisions, trouble focusing or paying attention.

Co-existing/Co-morbid Disorders

Psychotic disorders can be associated with many other mental health disorders like Depression, substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder as well as increased risk of suicide.

Risk Factors

Several factors contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia.

  • Genetics: Having a family history of schizophrenia
  • Environment factors: like living in poverty, stressful surroundings, and exposure to viruses or nutritional problems before birth.
  • Brain structure and function: differences in brain structure, function, and interactions among chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.
  • Taking mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) drugs during teen years and young adulthood

Treatments and Therapies

When delivered in a timely, coordinated, and sustained manner, treatment can help affected individuals to engage in school or work, achieve independence, and enjoy personal relationships. Treatments include:

Antipsychotic Medications

Antipsychotic medications are mainstay of schizophrenia treatment, they can help reduce the intensity and frequency of psychotic symptoms. They are usually taken daily in pill or liquid forms or as injections once or twice a month, which some individuals find to be more convenient than daily oral doses.

Many people taking antipsychotic medications have side effects such as weight gain, dry mouth, restlessness, and drowsiness when they start taking these medications. Some of these side effects subside over time, but others may. Suddenly stopping medication can be dangerous and it can make schizophrenia symptoms worse.

Psychosocial Treatments

Individual therapy – Psychotherapy may help to normalize thought patterns. Also, learning to cope with stress and identify early warning signs of relapse can help people with schizophrenia manage their illness.

Social skills training – This focuses on improving communication and social interactions and improving the ability to participate in daily activities.

Family therapy – This provides support and education to families dealing with schizophrenia.

Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment –  This focuses on helping people with schizophrenia prepare for, find and keep jobs.

Assertive Community Treatment – Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) is designed especially for individuals with schizophrenia who are at risk for repeated hospitalizations or homelessness.

Brain Stimulation Therapies – Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): ECT is a brain stimulation procedure that can help people get relief from severe symptoms of psychotic disorder.