Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects how someone behaves, feels, and interacts with others and the world. It’s a complex mental health challenge that has a lot of stigmas associated with it. For this reason, it’s important to distinguish between what schizophrenia is and isn’t and provide accurate information behind its causes and manifestations.
This condition affects nearly 24 million people (1 in 200 individuals) worldwide. Although there’s no cure for it at the moment, many people diagnosed with this disorder can manage their symptoms with behavioral interventions and psychotherapy. A combination of these approaches, besides self-care tools and social support, can keep schizophrenia symptoms under control and allow people to enjoy their life.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of schizophrenia and show you what you can do if you or anyone you know is affected by it.
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia symptoms encompass three main categories – psychotic, negative, and cognitive.
These include altered perceptions (such as changes in vision, hearing, smell, or touch), abnormal thinking, and changes in mood and behaviors. A particular symptom that would go under this category is hallucinations. This is a highly sensitive topic for people who suffer from mental health conditions. Someone who has hallucinations might see, hear, smell, or touch things that don’t exist in reality. They might be aware that the things they notice are not based on objective reality, but they can’t stop having this sensory experience.
Another symptom is delusions. These make people hold beliefs about themselves or the world which are not based on objective facts and seem rather irrational or exaggerated. For example, someone with delusions might fear that they’re always chased by someone who wants to harm them, even if there’s no evidence to support this belief.
This category of symptoms is similar to depression and manifests in lack of motivation, a flat mood, social withdrawal, and difficulty expressing emotions.
The flattening of emotions means that the individual will likely find no pleasure in the activities and routines they previously found enjoyable. This can lead them to become isolated from others. It may also have a negative effect on their ability to remain in meaningful employment. The individual will report that they do not want to engage in social activities and may retreat from their social circle.
These affect the functions of the brain related to thinking, concentration, making decisions, planning, etc. For some people, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are barely noticeable, while in other cases, they affect the ability to stay in education frameworks or maintain long-term employment. Some people diagnosed with this condition also show signs of disordered thinking – which refers to altered, disordered thinking patterns that show in one’s judgment and behaviors.
Types of Schizophrenia
There are several types of schizophrenia that may manifest differently from person to person:
This type is the most common form of schizophrenia and appears at a later stage of life. It is usually accompanied by hallucinations and delusions, but speech and emotions can also be affected.
This develops earlier than the previous type (usually around 15–20 years old). Symptoms include disorganized thoughts and behaviors besides delusions and hallucinations. The speech patterns might also be altered, which leads to difficulties communicating. People affected by this schizophrenia lack emotional facial expressions and voice tone.
Although it’s the rarest schizophrenia type, this sub-category includes more severe symptoms, such as limited, unusual, and sudden movements. Some people diagnosed with it are either very active or very still. Catatonic schizophrenia is also characterized by little speech or the tendency to mimic other people’s expressions or words.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia causes are highly complex, and more research is needed to understand the nature of this condition.
Although it is still not clear how schizophrenia occurs in the brain, research proposes that this mental illness results from subtle differences in the brain’s structure. This might stem from many genetic, psychological, and environmental causes.
An imbalance of the neurotransmitters that are key to brain functioning is also a definite explanation of this condition. Therefore, it can be argued that these structural and functional changes that are found in most schizophrenia types are also highly involved in hallucinations that some people report experiencing.
Poor family relationships are also thought to be a cause of schizophrenia, particularly for children who are repeatedly exposed to a stressful or traumatic upbringing. For example, research studies found that children who witness domestic abuse in their early childhood or who undergo aggression are more susceptible to developing schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia Treatment Options
Although there’s no definite cure for schizophrenia, this condition can be managed with an appropriate medication and therapy plan. The most effective approach suggested by studies in this area is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
A thorough examination from a registered healthcare provider is required before someone begins a medication course. This treatment reduces symptoms associated with schizophrenia, such as depressed mood, aggression, psychosis, etc.
The medication prescribed should only be taken according to a medication plan. This should include a comprehensive list of drugs to be taken, dosage, and frequency of administration, as well as potential side effects.
Any changes in medication should only be made after the consultation with a medical professional.
People seeking schizophrenia treatment will benefit from regular therapy. Although psychotherapeutic interventions do not fix the underlying causes of schizophrenia (which are a combination of genetic, chemical, and environmental causes), they do help on a behavioral level.
More precisely, therapy for schizophrenia can be an excellent tool in helping people with this condition manage their emotions, implement healthy communication styles, and recognize the triggers of their symptoms. There are many types of psychotherapy people diagnosed with schizophrenia can choose from, including cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive enhancement therapy, and art therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
This type of therapy helps people change their ways of thinking. In the case of someone with schizophrenia, CBT works by helping individuals recognize how thinking distortions lead to negative emotions and dysfunctional behaviors. During CBT interventions, many therapists use techniques such as psychoeducation, goal setting, thought monitoring, and emotional regulation techniques.
For example, CBT can work for someone who has irrational thoughts that affect their behaviors. Let’s assume that an individual with schizophrenia fears that they’re going to be hurt by a stranger on the street. A CBT therapist will help them look at the evidence supporting this thinking distortion (a technique called ‘thought challenging’). When the client realizes there’s not much tangible evidence to support their belief, their irrational fears will begin to decrease in intensity.
Similarly, CBT educates clients about the link between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and promotes tools and strategies for better emotional regulation, which is key in schizophrenia treatment.
Cognitive enhancement therapy (CET)
Also called cognitive remediation, CET teaches individuals with schizophrenia to recognize social cues and the triggers of their symptoms. This schizophrenia treatment alternative also helps people improve their attention, memory, concentration, and other cognitive skills.
Research has shown that expressing one’s thoughts in a non-verbal and creative way can help reduce the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Art therapists can work either in small groups or with individual clients. An art therapy session can provide individuals with a new experience and introduce them to others going through similar experiences with their condition. This opportunity can help them develop new ways of relating to others.
Schizophrenia Self-Care Options
Besides medication and therapy, individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia can better manage their symptoms with simple self-help practices. It is important to note that these do not replace professional treatment but can be an additional tool. Some self-care ideas alongside treatment include:
This daily habit can improve mood and enhance overall energy. However, it’s important to consult with your doctor before attempting a new form of exercise.
Social support and creative arts
Joining a local art club can help manage schizophrenia symptoms by increasing social connectedness. It is important for people with this condition to have a secure sense of belonging and stable social support.
Schizophrenia is a complex mental health condition that affects the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves. There’s no definite cure for it at the moment, even though scientists continue trying to find out more about this illness. For this reason, current schizophrenia treatment is a combination of psychiatric medication and psychotherapy interventions.
However, many people enjoy a fulfilling life despite their schizophrenia diagnosis. This condition can be managed with adequate treatment and social support, which is why it’s so important to consult a health professional from the onset of the symptoms.