Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic mental disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks and behaves. It is not as common as other mental disorders but is very serious – the symptoms can be disabling.
People who have schizophrenia might have hallucinations (auditory or visual), delusions, disorganized behavior or speech, and impaired cognitive ability. They might believe others can read their minds or are controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them in some way. This can be upsetting and scary both to the person suffering the illness and those around them.
Schizophrenics sometimes talk about unusual or strange ideas, which can make it hard to carry on a conversation with them. They might sit still and not talk or move for hours. Sometimes they come across as perfectly fine until they start talking about their thoughts.
The onset of symptoms usually occurs between ages 16 and 30, although in rare cases it might show up in childhood.
The symptoms can be classified into three groups: positive, negative, and cognitive.
Positive symptoms: These are psychotic behaviors that are not typically seen in healthy people and can indicate a break from aspects of reality. They include delusions, hallucinations, movement disorders and thought disorders (dysfunctional or unusual thoughts).
Negative symptoms: These relate to disruptions to normal behavior and emotions and include diminished feelings of pleasure in day-to-day life, diminished expression of emotions, tone of voice or facial expressions, finding it hard to begin and continue activities, and speaking less.
Cognitive symptoms: These range from subtle to severe and may include noticeable changes in memory or thinking. Symptoms include understanding information and using it to make decisions, problems paying attention or focusing, and trouble with ‘working memory’ or the ability to use information as soon as you learn it.
Factors that increase the risk of developing schizophrenia includes genetics and environment. Some researchers believe that interactions between genes and environment factors are necessary for schizophrenia to develop. Environmental factors can include malnutrition prior to birth, exposure to viruses, problems during birth and psychosocial factors.
Another factor is different brain chemistry and structure. Researchers believe that an imbalance in the brain’s complex, interrelated chemical reactions involving dopamine and glutamate and possibly other neurotransmitters, plays a role in schizophrenia. Some also speculate that problems during the brain’s development prior to birth may have led to faulty connections. In addition, during puberty, the brain undergoes major changes that could trigger psychotic symptoms in those who are vulnerable due to brain differences or genetics.
- While most schizophrenics are not violent, it is still important to get treatment as soon as possible as quickly as possible. The risk of violence is greatest when schizophrenia is untreated since the illness may worsen over time. Schizophrenics are more likely than non-schizophrenics to be harmed by others as well as to harm themselves.