Schizophrenia is a severe mental health disorder that impacts a person’s thinking, feelings, and behaviors. People with schizophrenia may feel as though they have lost touch with reality. As a result, the person may experience significant distress, and it can be stressful for their loved ones, as well. If schizophrenia is left untreated, its symptoms can persist and be debilitating.
However, there are many effective treatments for this mental health condition these days. When treated properly, those living with schizophrenia can have a successful life in school or work, be independent, and have flourishing personal relationships and social life.
When Does Schizophrenia Usually Get Diagnosed?
Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed during the late teens to the early thirties. For males, it is commonly seen in later adolescence to early twenties. With females, it is the early twenties to early thirties. A diagnosis of schizophrenia usually occurs after the first episode of psychosis. There will also likely be gradual changes in thinking, mood, and social functioning before this first episode of psychosis. It can begin in mid-adolescence. Even though schizophrenia can occur in young children, it is rare to occur in childhood before late adolescence.
**Note: This language features gender dichotomously as that is what is indicated in the research, and it does not talk about any variability. We have used the language in these statistics because this is what was reported in the study.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
The symptoms of schizophrenia usually occur in the following three categories:
1) Psychotic symptoms
- Altered perceptions (vision changes, hearing, smell, touch, and taste)
- Abnormal thinking patterns, and odd behaviors
- Losing a shared sense of reality
- Experiencing themselves and the world in a more distorted way
- Hallucinations, like hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
- Delusions, aka, firmly held beliefs not supported by objective facts
- Thought disorder, which features unusual thinking or disorganized speech patterns
2) Negative symptoms
- Loss of motivation, disinterest, or loss of enjoyment in daily activities
- Social withdrawal
- Challenges with expressing emotions
- Difficulties with daily functioning
- Reduced motivation and difficulty planning, starting, and keeping up with activities
- Loss of feelings of pleasure in daily life
- “Flat affect,” aka, reduced expression of emotions in facial expression or voice tone
- Speaking less
3) Cognitive symptoms
- Issues with attention, concentration, and memory.
- Challenges with processing information to make decisions
- Having struggled with using information immediately after learning it
- Having a hard time focusing or paying attention
What Are the Causes of Schizophrenia?
It is not entirely known what causes schizophrenia directly. However, researchers theorize that it could be due to genetics, brain chemistry, and the environment.
It has also been hypothesized that schizophrenia could develop due to issues with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, like dopamine and glutamate. Also, according to neuroimaging studies, there are differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people who have schizophrenia. Even though researchers aren’t exactly sure about the significance of these changes, they do show that schizophrenia is a brain disease.
Are There Any Risk Factors?
Researchers think that various genetic and environmental factors contribute to what causes schizophrenia. In addition, life stressors can contribute to the beginning of symptoms and their course. However, since there are so many different factors that may contribute to schizophrenia, scientists cannot determine the exact cause for each individual.
What Treatment Options Are Available?
Treatment can be effective at helping people with schizophrenia lead successful lives. As with any other chronic health condition, some patients do very well with treatment. However, some patients will still continue to have symptoms and may need continual support and assistance.
Antipsychotic medications can minimize the intensity and frequency of psychotic symptoms. However, if a patient’s symptoms do not improve, they will likely receive clozapine. People who take clozapine must undergo regular blood testing since a potentially dangerous side effect happens in 1-2% of patients.
Be sure to discuss medications with a qualified health care provider. They will talk to you about side effects, how often you should take the medication, and address any of your concerns.
Once schizophrenia symptoms are managed, several types of therapy can help people cope with their mental health condition. Counseling supports can help people with their social skills, better handle stress, and identify early warning signs of symptoms. Since schizophrenia generally occurs in early adulthood, people with the disorder can benefit from rehabilitation to develop life-management skills.
In addition, family and social support are integral to the health and well-being of someone with schizophrenia. Loved ones must do their part to be educated, informed, and find ways to support these individuals. Some mental health organizations, like the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Mental Health America (MHA) are great places to start learning about schizophrenia. In addition, our mental health resources and articles at LGBTQ AND ALL can be informative and educational so that you know how to best support your loved one dealing with mental health issues.
How to Help Someone Living With Schizophrenia
If you know someone who has or might have schizophrenia, be sure to talk to them about your concerns. It is essential to have this discussion from a compassionate and non-judgmental place. By offering encouragement and support, they will know that you are a person they can trust.
Here are some other things you can do to help someone with schizophrenia in your life:
- Help them find treatment and encourage them to stay in it
- Keep in mind that their beliefs or hallucinations are real to them
- Validate them by acknowledging that everyone has the right to see things as they do
- Be respectful, empathetic, supportive, and kind
- Find any support groups in your local area
In addition, suicidal thoughts and behaviors can occur among people with schizophrenia. If you have a loved one who is in danger of hurting themselves or has made a suicide attempt, be sure to call 911 or your local emergency department. If it is safe to do so, you can also bring them to the nearest hospital emergency room.