What is schizophrenia?

     Schizophrenia is a mental illness that causes an abnormal interpretation of reality. People who suffer from schizophrenia do not have split or multiple personalities, but instead have trouble distinguishing between reality and their imaginations. People with schizophrenia may experience delusions in which they hear voices that aren’t there or believe people are trying to harm them. They may also have trouble handling emotions or dealing with social situations.

Schizophrenia affects about 2 million adults in the U.S. It is a severely disruptive illness that can cause problems with work, personal relationships, and daily functioning. Having schizophrenia does not make a person inherently more dangerous. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia are non-violent, and many are actually more withdrawn and reclusive. There is no cure for schizophrenia, but it is highly treatable through long-term care and management.

What are signs/symptoms of schizophrenia?

     There are three types of symptoms: positive, negative, and cognitive. Positive symptoms are symptoms “added” to a person’s behavior, or not normally seen in healthy individuals. Negative symptoms are missing or disrupted behaviors or thoughts. Cognitive symptoms are disruptions to thought processing or comprehension. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia as:

  • Positive: symptoms not normally seen
    • Hallucinations
    • Delusions
    • Thought disorders
      • Disorganized thinking
        • Difficulty organizing thoughts and making logical connections
      • Thought blocking
        • Abruptly stops speaking in the middle of a thought
      • Neologisms
        • Creating meaningless words
    • Movement disorders
      • Repetition of motions
      • Catatonia, or unresponsiveness
  • Negative symptoms
    • "Flat affect" (a person's face does not move or he or she talks in a dull or monotonous voice)
    • Lack of pleasure in everyday life
    • Lack of ability to begin and sustain planned activities
    • Speaking little, even when forced to interact.
  • Cognitive symptoms
    • Poor "executive functioning" (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)
    • Trouble focusing or paying attention
    • Problems with "working memory" (the ability to use information immediately after learning it).

What are the risk factors for schizophrenia?

  • The biggest risk factor is genetic history.
    • Having a family member or sibling with schizophrenia greatly increases predisposition
  • Life stressors
    • Repeated traumatic or stressful events can influence the onset of schizophrenia.

What are treatment options for schizophrenia?

       There is no cure for schizophrenia, but symptoms can be reduced to a manageable level through a variety of treatment options. While medication is the most effective way to treat the symptoms, counseling, support, therapy, medication and rehabilitation are instrumental for ensuring that people with schizophrenia can cope in their daily lives. Medications include typical (older) and atypical (newer) anti-psychotics to reduce delusions and hallucinations, while therapy and counseling mainly focus on stress and lifestyle management.

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