Understanding Schizophrenia

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem as though they have lost touch with reality, which can be distressing for them and for their family and friends.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia symptoms can differ from person to person, but they generally fall into three main categories: psychotic, negative, and cognitive.

Psychotic symptoms

Psychotic symptoms include changes in the way a person thinks, acts, and experiences the world. People with psychotic symptoms may lose a shared sense of reality with others and experience the world in a distorted way. For some people, these symptoms come and go. For others, the symptoms become stable over time.

Psychotic symptoms include:

● Hallucinations: When a person sees, hears, smells, tastes, or feels things that are not actually there. Hearing voices is common for people with schizophrenia.

● Delusions: When a person has strong beliefs that are not true and may seem irrational to others. For example, individuals experiencing delusions may believe that people on the radio and television are sending special messages that require a certain response, or they may believe that they are in danger or that others are trying to hurt them. Thought disorder: When a person has ways of thinking that are unusual or illogical. People with thought disorders may have trouble organizing their thoughts and speech. Sometimes a person will stop talking in the middle of a thought, jump from topic to topic, or makeup words that have no meaning.

Negative symptoms

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

Negative symptoms include:

● Having trouble planning and sticking with activities, such as grocery shopping.

● Having trouble anticipating and feeling pleasure in everyday life

● Talking in a dull voice and showing limited facial expression

● Avoiding social interaction or interacting in socially awkward ways

● Having very low energy and spending a lot of time in passive activities. In extreme cases, a person might stop moving or talking for a while, which is a rare condition called catatonia. These symptoms are sometimes mistaken for symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses.

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms include problems with attention, concentration, and memory. These symptoms can make it hard to follow a conversation, learn new things, or remember appointments. A person’s level of cognitive functioning is one of the best predictors of their day-to-day functioning. Cognitive functioning is evaluated using specific tests.

Cognitive symptoms include:

● Having trouble processing information to make decisions

● Having trouble using information immediately after learning it

● Having trouble focusing or paying attention.

What causes schizophrenia?

Several factors may contribute to a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia, including:

● Genetics. Schizophrenia sometimes runs in families. However, just because one family member has schizophrenia, it does not mean that other members of the family also will have it. Studies suggest that many different genes may increase a person’s chances of developing schizophrenia, but that no single gene causes the disorder by itself. 

● Environment. Research suggests that a combination of genetic factors and aspects of a person’s environment and life experiences may play a role in the development of schizophrenia. These environmental factors may include living in poverty, stressful or dangerous surroundings, and exposure to viruses or nutritional problems before birth.

● Brain structure and function. Research shows that people with schizophrenia may be more likely to have differences in the size of certain brain areas and in connections between brain areas. Some of these brain differences may develop before birth.

How is schizophrenia treated?

The symptoms of schizophrenia can make it difficult to participate in usual, everyday activities, but effective treatments are available. Many people who receive treatment can engage in school or work, achieve independence, and enjoy personal relationships. Current treatments for schizophrenia focus on helping individuals manage their symptoms, improve day-to-day functioning, and achieve personal life goals, such as completing education, pursuing a career, and having fulfilling relationships. 

Antipsychotic medications

Antipsychotic medications can help make psychotic symptoms less intense and less frequent. These medications are usually taken every day in a pill or liquid form. Some antipsychotic medications are given as injections once or twice a month.

How can I help a friend or relative with schizophrenia?

It can be difficult to know how to help someone who is experiencing psychosis. Here are some things you can do:

● Help them get treatment and encourage them to stay in treatment.

● Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them.

● Be respectful, supportive, and kind without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behavior.

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