Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental disorder. It is characterized by disturbance in thought, perception and behavior. The symptoms have a negative impact on most functions and social interactions of the individual suffering from it. Schizophrenia does not imply a “split personality” or dissociative identity disorder, as is often wrongly labelled in the public.
People suffering from Schizophrenia have periods in their life where it seems they have lost touch with reality. They also experience the world differently than people around them. Schizophrenic symptoms are divided into two groups: positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are the ones that look “strange” or “odd” to other people. They include paranoia and delusions as well as hallucinations of different kind (i.e. optic, acoustic, sensory). A person might hear or see things no one else can or be completely sure that they are a superhero, Jesus or a spy saving the world. These thoughts and perceptions are as real to them as sitting on a chair and reading this blog post is to you.
Negative symptoms include reduced social interaction, diminished emotional expression, flat affect and lack of motivation/pleasure. Often, these negative symptoms start to occur quite some time before the positive ones.
Signs of schizophrenia
With schizophrenia in adolescents, parents often report a change of behavior in their children. Their school grades might slip, they might appear very disorganized all of the sudden or spent less time with their friends without plausible reason. Early-onset schizophrenia typically occurs between the ages of 13 and 18.
Types of schizophrenia
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) does not differentiate between subtypes of schizophrenia anymore, because they used to overlap with one another and treatment is mostly the same.
Antipsychotic medication is the first-line treatment for schizophrenia. Antipsychotics are a class of medication usually effective in relieving symptoms of psychosis in the short term. There are first- and second-generation drugs (also called typical and atypical), which both block receptors in the brain’s dopamine pathways. Atypical antipsychotics also act on serotonin receptors and generally have a better side-effect profile.
As of right now, researchers haven’t understood what causes schizophrenia completely. There are different reasons though that have been established to partly play a role in the disorder’s development. One of the most significant risk factors are the genes. In twin-studies researchers found that if one identical twin sibling has schizophrenia, the other has a 1 in 2 chance of developing it. This is also the case if the twins are raised separately. In comparison, the risk for disease is 1 in 100 in the general population. Furthermore, it is believed that low levels or imbalances of certain chemicals, in particular dopamine, in the brain play a role in the development of schizophrenia. Additionally, the use of recreational drugs (i.e. cannabis, cocaine, LSD and amphetamines) may trigger symptoms of schizophrenia in people who are more at risk.
If you think that you or a person you know is showing signs of schizophrenia, please seek out help and immediate treatment. The earlier the disorder is recognized and correctly treated, the higher the chance that symptoms will reduce and eventually vanish.
1 American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®): American Psychiatric Pub.