Schizophrenia shares many symptoms with other mental illnesses. Taking a look at the different symptoms will provide deeper insight into this condition. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or if you think you or a loved one may have schizophrenia.
New onset schizophrenia is distinguished by a sudden onset of symptoms, which may begin as mild but worsen over time. Schizophrenia is a chronic illness. People with schizophrenia may go through periods during which their symptoms worsen. People who stop taking their medication or are under stress, such as from an illness or significant life event, are at an increased risk of worsening symptoms. People with schizophrenia can have severe behavioral symptoms. These include confusion and disorientation. It may be difficult for people with schizophrenia to know the difference between reality and the delusions or hallucinations they have. These symptoms may worsen or improve unpredictably.
Positive vs. Negative
The symptoms of schizophrenia are considered to be either positive or negative.
Positive symptoms respond well to drug therapy. Hallucinations and delusions are among the positive symptoms. Disordered thoughts and speech are also considered positive symptoms. Symptoms aren’t characterized as “positive” because they’re “good.” Instead, they’re positive because they represent increased activation of certain areas of the brain.
Negative symptoms are those that involve an inability to function normally. They include an inability to feel pleasure, a lack of desire for any social connections, and not showing any emotions.
Negative symptoms don’t respond as well to drug therapy as positive symptoms. Negative symptoms may come from decreased activation of certain regions of the brain.
Most people who have schizophrenia will hear voices that no one else hears. They may believe the voices are trying to control or spy on them. Another symptom is visual hallucinations, in which people see things that others don’t.
Delusions are fixed beliefs that persist despite evidence that the belief is incorrect. For instance, a person may believe that they’re the leader of a foreign country. Although they have no evidence that they’re the leader of a foreign county, they continue to believe it.
Other symptoms include unhealthy social or work relationships. A person with schizophrenia may have difficulty with self-care. Symptoms generally first appear in adolescence or early adulthood. When they do, they can lead to difficulty with long-term independence. They can also make certain mundane activities like dressing and grooming a challenge to accomplish. Another behavioral symptom of schizophrenia is called “flattened affect.” This is a state in which someone can’t experience the normal range of human emotions. Other symptoms of schizophrenia may include what are called “cognitive symptoms.” These can include difficulty thinking and remembering information.
Physical symptoms may include catatonia. People with schizophrenia may appear immobilized or in a stupor. They may posture and grimace. These symptoms may occur in reaction to voices they’re hearing or as standalone symptoms.
Verbal symptoms may include stopping in mid-sentence when speaking, only to resume speaking on a different topic. There may be uncomfortably long silences between sentences, or a person may speak nonsense. This is sometimes call “word salad.” Word salad is when random words are strung together in no logical order.
Another speech pattern is known as “clang association,” in which a person speaks sentences based on the rhyming of words instead of the meaning of words.
Many people believe that schizophrenia makes people violent. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with schizophrenia aren’t usually violent. However, substance abuse may increase the chance that a person will become violent. While the risk of violence is small in people with schizophrenia, suicide is a risk. About 10 percent of people with schizophrenia die by suicide.
The good news about schizophrenia is that it’s treatable. Many people with this disorder live full and meaningful lives. According to HealthGuide.org, an organization that provides information and support for those living with neurobiological illnesses, only one in five people diagnosed with schizophrenia who get treatment continue to have troublesome symptoms on a regular basis. Of the remaining four people, one will get better within five years of their first symptoms. The other three will get better, but will still have times when their symptoms get worse.
HealthGuide.org points out that while recovering from schizophrenia is a lifelong process, treatment programs make recovery possible. With the right therapy, medication, and support systems, a diagnosis of schizophrenia doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of hospitalizations and ever-worsening symptoms.
Strategies for living with schizophrenia
Coping with schizophrenia can be difficult for the person with the condition, as well as for family and friends. The first step is to talk with your doctor or therapist about activities and coping skills that may help.
What you can do now
These are general tips for living with schizophrenia recommended by the Mayo Clinic:
- Learn about schizophrenia. Your doctor or therapist will be able to suggest books, websites, or other materials to help you, family, and friends understand schizophrenia.
- Participate in a support group. Support groups are available for people with schizophrenia, as well as for family and friends. Your doctor or therapist can put you in touch with particular groups.
- Set realistic goals. Establishing treatment goals can help the person with schizophrenia stay focused and motivated.
- Practice stress management. Both the person with schizophrenia and their loved ones may benefit from stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, relaxation exercises, yoga, and tai chi.