What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a rare, yet complex, type of mental disorder that can have life-altering ramifications. Although less than 1 percent of people across the world run the risk of ever developing schizophrenia, those who do may suffer with delusions, hallucinations, and have major difficulties in social or occupational situations.

Knowing the symptoms and risk factors of schizophrenia—including when symptoms start to manifest—could help you spot the warning signs. Click “next” to begin learning more about this complicated mental disorder.

Symptoms of schizophrenia are categorized in two ways:

Positive: reflect an excess or distortion of normal functions, such as delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and extremely disorganized or catatonic behavior Negative: reflect diminished functioning, including limited emotional expression, restricted productivity of thought and speech, as well as a lack of initiating goal-orientated behavior A myth about schizophrenia is that it involves split personalities. While the term schizophrenia means “split mind,” it refers to emotions and thought processes, not personalities.

Paranoid schizophrenia involves either delusions—erroneous beliefs involving a misinterpretation of experiences or perceptions—or auditory hallucinations—“voices” distinct from a person’s own thoughts. Delusions are often grandiose, following a single theme: persecution, jealousy, religion, etc. They can also exhibit the following:

  • anxiety
  • anger
  • aloof or argumentative behavior
  • Those with persecutory delusions may also be violent or suicidal, but have the greatest ability to become functionally stable over time.

Disorganized schizophrenia, formerly called hebephrenic, includes different types of disorganization in speech and behavior. This means a person could talk in circles or off-topic or give answers unrelated to what’s being asked. This behavior impairs the person’s ability to perform daily activities such as preparing meals, showering, or dressing.

A person with disorganized schizophrenia will often have a flat expression or behave inappropriately in social situations. The person may show odd behavior, such as grimacing or acting silly and laughing at inappropriate times.

Catatonic schizophrenia can appear as extreme immobility and unresponsiveness, while other times manifesting itself as copy-cat like behavior. Symptoms are related to psychomotor disturbances, such as immobility, mutism, or the persistent refusal of orders and instructions without reason (negativism). The person, at times, may appear to be in a stupor.

Catatonic schizophrenics may often repeat something someone has just said (echolalia) or repeat someone’s actions (echopraxia).

Residual schizophrenia refers to the time after a person has had at least one schizophrenic episode, but no longer shows any major positive symptoms. However, the person does show some negative symptoms like speaking little, has mildly disorganized speech, or has unexplainable beliefs.

Undifferentiated schizophrenia is a classification used when a person has symptoms from different types of schizophrenia.

Child-onset schizophrenia usually appears after the age of 5 and follows normal, age-specific development. Childhood schizophrenia is rare, and it can be difficult to distinguish from other childhood development disorders, like autism.

In adults, symptoms of schizophrenia typically begin to appear before the age of 45. Men often show symptoms in their teens or 20s, while women begin showing symptoms in their 20s or 30s.The incident rates are evenly split between men and women.

While research has yet to determine what causes schizophrenia, some studies have pointed to a few possible explanations and triggers:

  • genetic factors
  • infection during development in the womb
  • serious infections during early childhood
  • psychological and social factors

No medical tests can confirm schizophrenia, but a computed tomography (CT) scan is often used to rule out other brain disorders. Psychiatrists or psychologists typically make the final diagnosis of schizophrenia based on information given by the patient, family, or friends. This includes:

  • time symptoms have been present (more than six months)
  • changes in a person’s level of function
  • developmental background
  • medical history
  • family history of the illness
  • responses to medication

One major hurdle in treating a person suffering from schizophrenia is his or her willingness to comply.

To prevent a relapse, schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment even after symptoms have decreased. During periods where symptoms are severe, hospitalization may be required to keep a person safe and to provide adequate care.

While a psychologist or psychiatrist makes an official diagnosis, coordinated care may involve social workers, case managers, and psychiatric nurses as part of ongoing therapy.

The most common prescription medications for schizophrenia are antipsychotics because of their affect on neurotransmitters with low side effects. Some commonly prescribed antipsychotics include:

  • Aripiprazole (Abilify) – approved for teens
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Paliperidone (Invega)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal) – approved for teens
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)

Advances in medication and other therapies are helping schizophrenics every day, but there is no cure. Many schizophrenics also benefit from rehabilitation or assisted living, which help prevent other problems like substance abuse, self-harm, physical illness, or relapses of symptoms.

Keeping up with schizophrenia treatments is the best way to prevent symptoms from recurring, but getting help – for yourself or a loved one – is most important. Continuing to learn about schizophrenia can help you reach treatment goals of living a functional and happy life.