People in general are aware that there is some form of mental illness “out there” called schizophrenia, and that’s about as far as their knowledge goes. This psychological curiosity occurs in just under one percent of the population on the planet, which could be why the large majority of people remain ignorant to it. Not many people are likely to encounter this interesting anomaly of cognitive functioning. But those who do are immediately captivated by the vast array of experiences and behaviors that come along with the condition. This personal entwinement removes the fear, stigma, and taboo of schizophrenia and opens the gateways to knowledge and compassion.
It is not just the individual afflicted with schizophrenia that experiences an increase in the need for active management of their lives. This illness has an effect on the schizophrenic’s entire social circle, including the community, family, friends, and any other relations. It is, for this reason, wise for all of us to have some depth of understanding of schizophrenia. Understanding the definition of schizophrenia, knowing the symptoms, and being able to work with them will contribute to the meaningfulness of life for all parties. Of course, this is reward we all invite into our lives.
A Basic Introduction to Schizophrenia
Without using too many technical terms or medical and psychiatric jargon, let’s talk about schizophrenia in general in regards to the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and more.
It is often up to a person’s loved ones to notice a strangeness in behavior happening to help a person understand that something weird is going on. Schizophrenia, for the sufferer, is mainly an internal experience. There may be difficulty in distinguishing the differences between consensual reality and abstractions of their own mind. This oftentimes leads to confusion and a loss of clarity when it comes to thinking, planning, and executing daily activities. This confusion is usually inspired by highly complex thoughts and insights, which rouse much strong emotion. Having these powerful feelings inside can lead to an expression that may seem inappropriate for the situation at hand.
This is all the outsider can see, though. They don’t have access to the thoughts and internal experiences of the person dealing with these intense stimuli. They only see what happens behaviorally; the external expression is all anyone else can know of someone else’s internal world. And because schizophrenia can include a loss of self-awareness, the schizophrenic may not realize that their thoughts and feelings have become abnormal. This is why it is important for everyone to be able to recognize schizophrenic behaviors, so that the help needed can be obtained quickly and efficiently, reducing the overall suffering and returning the individual dealing with the mental disorder back to full functioning and happiness as fast as possible.
Why Does This Happen To Some People and Not Others?
To be fully honest, we don’t know anything for sure. The neuroscientist will explain the complexity of schizophrenia in regards to brain regions, synaptic firing, dendrite myelination, lesions, and other possibilities. The psychiatrist will focus on the imbalance of neurotransmitters. The psychologist will focus prior trauma, the disorganization of thought, the restructuring of the cognitive framework, and more. The priest and mystic will refer to spiritual awakenings, shamanic callings, vision quests, and more. But the truth is, these are all ideas that hold some validity, and the truth is likely some combination of all of these helpful offerings.
We do see a higher incidence of schizophrenia within family trees, meaning that if you have a family member who struggles with this disease, it is more likely for you to develop symptoms associated with schizophrenia than someone who has no relation with anyone dealing with it. This leads us to believe there is a genetic aspect to this mental illness.
We also see a higher incidence in men over women, around 1.4 times the amount of male schizophrenics over females. While an early on-set of the symptoms can happen as early as age 5, it is not very common. Plus doctors are not willing to give a personality disorder diagnosis to anyone below the age of 18. Most people see symptoms arising any time from age 20 up to 33 or so.
What are the Experiences and Symptoms of the Schizophrenic?
Although there are situations called psychotic breaks, which can result in sudden and forceful symptoms to appear rapidly, most of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia slowly build over the length of one year to several. It can be so slowly that nobody, including the schizophrenic or his or her family and friends, notices the shift until things become quite bizarre. The person’s increasingly odd behavior can cause them to slowly excommunicate and ostracize themselves, so that in the end there is nobody about to notice the continuing change in behavior and thought.
The early symptoms can be quite unnoticeable and easily confused as a symptom of some other condition. These can include sleeping difficulties, concentration problems, or even irritability and tension. These are not uncommon experiences for anybody, but as this psychological condition progresses, the depth of the psychosomatic distortions can grow to alarming heights. Some of these include:
• Blunted emotions and a flat affect
• Sensory distortions and hallucinations
• Delusions of reference and belief
• Loose associations of thought
The decrease in the experience of emotion will seem strange to an outside observer, as the person’s face will become “flat” and show very little insight into what the person is feeling (not much). Aberrations in the sensory stimuli will occur, such as small distortions in the visual field. This can be movements in the periphery, fuzziness and static, warped and flowing motions, etc. The person may begin to hear strange noises hidden within other sounds, or hear faint music inside their own head. The range of experience is far too vast to ever cover. The schizophrenic may smell things burning or interesting fragrances associated with colors, or when they look at a certain color they experience a specific taste or feeling on their body. This is called synesthesia, which is described as a crossing of the senses. Their thoughts can become very randomized, due to the lack of concentration abilities, and can jump from topic to topic. The person’s speech may resemble this type of “word salad.”
What are the Different Types of Schizophrenia?
Of course, the types of symptoms arising will also be related to the type of schizophrenia being experienced. There are several constellations of symptoms that can be compartmentalized under different categories of schizophrenia. Among these, the main types are Paranoid, Disorganized, Catatonic, and Undifferentiated schizophrenia.
Paranoid schizophrenia features more anxiety related symptoms, such as paranoia, fear, distrust, and nervousness. Disorganized schizophrenia features mental confusion and difficulty in expression, usually resembling very childlike communication and behavior. Catatonic schizophrenia features outward symptoms such as bodily rigidity, odd facial expressions that become locked into place, and a lack of response to stimuli. The undifferentiated type blurs these boundaries and may feature a combination of symptoms.
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prognosis
There are no official tests that can be taken to confirm a case of schizophrenia. However, there are some online tests that can tell you if you feature certain tendencies related to the condition. To truly be diagnosed as schizophrenic, you must visit a psychiatrist or psychologist and have them interview you and your family to gain insight into what’s been going on. They may employ all types of tests in order to rule out other possibilities, such as blood tests, brain scans, and questionnaires.
The treatment of schizophrenia can include many different modalities of treatment, including hospitalization, medication, and psychotherapy. Hospitalization is oftentimes a must when the person hasn’t gained a full grasp on what is happening to them, and their bizarre behavior becomes a danger to themselves or others. Another reason this is beneficial is because they can be given a regimen of antipsychotic medications and watched to make sure the proper dosage is being given. There are also sometimes side effects in certain individuals that could require immediate attention, so it’s best to determine that upon initial administration of the medication.
Psychotherapy for schizophrenia can include individual sessions, family sessions, and support groups including all of these people and other schizophrenics. These groups all aim to accomplish one goal, which is teaching behavioral management including social skills, job training, relationship fostering, and financial control. They also aim to educate all parties involved, such as this website wishes to do as well.
The prognosis for schizophrenia is not something that can be done for the long-term. Schizophrenia is a life-long illness, but the symptoms can be managed using the methods above. If the person stays the course true, they have a better chance to minimize relapses of acute symptoms and management of their overall life. Depending on the severity of each individual case, the person may need help with housing and their job, and other needs such as public transportation. They may be able to live alone and be fully functioning members of society, or may need some in-home help, which is certainly okay. It is important to continue taking the medication prescribed and to not use alcohol or drugs. This type of self-medication can result in substance abuse and addiction problems.
This information reflects the very tip of the iceberg of information available on the topic of schizophrenia. I encourage everyone to read deeper and learn as much as possible, especially if they know someone, or they themselves live with schizophrenia. Knowledge can spawn courage, compassion, and wisdom. We should all arm ourselves with these weapons of love!