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Preventive Health

Schizophrenia: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

6 Mins read

The stigma associated with schizophrenia, a severe mental health disorder, can be polarizing. In the news, tv shows, and movies, we often see schizophrenic patients inflicting self-harm or hurting other people because of their delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia. Schizophrenia is not widely understood, and because human beings tend to fear the unknown or what we don’t understand, many of us would be afraid to be around someone who is diagnosed schizophrenic.

In 2001, a Hollywood film entitled A Beautiful Mind starring Russe Crowe, brought attention to this mental illness. The film is based on a true story, and chronicles the life of John Nash (1928-2015), a brilliant mathematician who battled schizophrenia but managed to live a fruitful life. The story depicts how severely debilitating it is to live with this mental illness. At the same time, however, it proffers hope because it portrays how Nash made significant contributions to the fields of mathematics and game theory, garnering him a Nobel Prize.  

Sadly, schizophrenia is a mental illness that impacts not just patients but also family members and caregivers. Family members could find themselves in serious danger if they live with someone who is schizophrenic. Today, research indicates that there are approximately 2.77 million new cases of schizophrenia annually. Fortunately, however, the odds of developing this condition are at a low 0.85%, meaning 850 people in the world out of 100,000 will experience schizophrenia at a certain point in their lifetime. That being said, it would still help all of us to learn more about this condition so we can make an attitude shift and lessen the stigma associated with mental health disorders. Some schizophrenics are very dangerous and violent, but others are not dangerous. 

Defining Schizophrenia

Those with schizophrenia might interpret reality abnormally or be out-of-touch with reality. Schizophrenia is a serious and chronic psychiatric condition that refers to a spectrum of disorders that pertain to a disconnect from reality. This mental illness may manifest in a combination of delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thought patterns during late adolescence or early adulthood. As a result, it could potentially disrupt daily functions as it impacts behavior, thoughts, and feelings. People with this condition could have poor speech, limited critical thinking abilities, impaired movement, diminished social interactions, and more symptoms that we’ll soon get into.

Moreover, schizophrenia patients usually cannot recognize that they have symptoms of the disorder. Typically, a person living with schizophrenia could have bouts where they lose touch with reality and a period of remission where they feel calm and sane. For example, paranoid schizophrenia is predominantly characterized by delusions, blurring the lines of what’s real versus what’s not. A patient may feel as if someone is out to get him, even if that’s not the case. Clear thinking may only set in when triggers like stress are eliminated, or when prescribed medications are taken.  

Seeking early intervention is the key to getting the symptoms under control. Finding treatment also means managing the symptoms before serious complications manifest. When help is administered right away, it improves long-term outcomes. Fortunately, schizophrenia is treatable and patients can still live full and happy lives.

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Causes of Schizophrenia

Although researchers cannot pinpoint the exact cause of the disease’s onset, they suspect that a combination of risk factors may play a big role. We should all understand the potential causes of schizophrenia to help us identify if we and our loved ones might be at risk. Knowing the potential triggers could help people understand if certain steps could be done to prevent the onset of this lifelong mental disorder. 

Genetic Risk Factors

Studies indicate that one of the primary risk factors for schizophrenia is genetic. It tends to run in families, which means if you have family members with this disorder, you have a higher likelihood of acquiring it.

However, there is not one single gene responsible for this illness. Instead, researchers suspect that a combination of different genes could make an individual more susceptible. For example, stimuli like stress combined with medication could possibly trigger schizophrenia’s onset in people who have a higher risk. 

To help mitigate this problem and understand your genetic risk factors, you can take a CircleDNA Test. It will reveal your cancer and disease risks, including mental health disorders that you have higher risk of developing due to your DNA.  

Certain Drugs and Medications can Trigger Symptoms

The use of certain drugs will not result in schizophrenia but it can trigger symptoms in people who are at high risk, especially for people with a strong family history. Those who are susceptible to schizophrenia, to begin with may react with the components of the following drugs:

  • Cannabis
  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines

Changes in Brain Structure

Those diagnosed with schizophrenia may have subtle physical changes in the brain. However, these changes are not visible in everyone with schizophrenia. Furthermore, changes in brain structure can also occur in people with no mental health disorders. After all, activities like playing a musical instrument, sleep, sports, and medication can alter the human brain structure. That being said, reports strongly suggest that even these minor changes in brain structure could play a big role in people with a strong propensity for schizophrenia.

Psychosocial Factors

Psychosocial trauma such as child abuse or severe bullying can be a contributing factor to the onset of schizophrenia. Other forms of trauma could include the death of a loved one or divorce of parents. As a result, patients often experience vivid hallucinations of these unhappy events that occurred when they were younger. They have trouble moving past the issues, confusing the lines between their current reality and their past reality. 

Changes in Brain Chemistry

The human brain is loaded with neurotransmitters, which are complex and highly interrelated chemicals that send signals between brain cells. When there’s an imbalance in these chemicals, it can play a significant factor in the onset of this psychiatric disorder and other mental health conditions. 

For example, dopamine, the one responsible for learning, motivation, and pleasure, impacts the onset of schizophrenia. High dopamine levels result in the brain’s overstimulation of people with schizophrenia. 

Similarly, the chemical glutamate is also suspected to be linked with this mental disorder. Bear in mind that depression also factors in chemical imbalances, particularly dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Thus, some patients may have started with mild depression before escalating into the more complex diagnosis of schizophrenia. 

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Complications with Pregnancy and Birth

Many studies show that individuals who are a product of prenatal complications or a traumatic birth may have a stronger likelihood of developing schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Take a look at the following risk factors:

Other Environmental Factors

A growing body of studies indicated that there could also be an association between viral infections like the Epstein Barr or Toxoplasma Gondii and schizophrenia. However, genetic factors explain an individual’s risk of developing schizophrenia against these illnesses. On top of that, severe stress, as well as chronic alcohol abuse, may also be counted as triggers. 

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Before, mental health professionals classified schizophrenia into five types: paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, and residual. However, in 2013, they updated the mental health manual utilized for diagnosis. The types noted above still feature a schizophrenia diagnosis but specialists no longer assign specific subtypes because the symptoms overlap most of the time. 

Instead, professionals take note of each specific symptom to determine the best treatments for every patient. Schizophrenia involves a broad range of signs from thinking, emotions, and behavior. These may include the following:

  • Delusions 
  • Hearing voices
  • Being suspicious of people
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Speaking in monotone
  • No changes in facial expressions
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Abnormal behavior 
  • Social withdrawal
  • Bizarre posture
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor concentration
  • Excessive movement
  • Doesn’t experience pleasure
  • Learning problems
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Poor decisions making
  • Clumsiness due to poor muscle coordination
  • A decline in self-care

There’s a whole gamut of signs and symptoms, and it can vary from person to person. Some symptoms could be present all the time, even during relaxed periods. Meanwhile, the severity of other symptoms could worsen or disappear depending on the exposure to stimuli or current stress levels. Some symptoms could relapse or manifest with increased activity. 

Schizophrenia Treatments 

Schizophrenia patients are often not aware that their symptoms stem from a mental disorder that needs medical attention. Often, loved ones seek intervention and get them the help they need to get their life back on track. 

Although schizophrenia is a life-long illness, there are many effective conventional and complementary treatments that could manage the symptoms. Collaborating with a qualified mental health care professional is key. Following the treatment plan and staying consistent with checkups can help. Some treatments may include a combination of the following:

  • Taking antipsychotic drugs from oral meds to injectables
  • Therapy from individual counseling to group therapy
  • Planning coordinated care with family members
  • Taking certain vitamins to address deficiencies that may result in chemical imbalances
  • Having a creative outlet to occupy the mind and body
  • Joining support groups for patients and as a family
  • Joining spiritually oriented therapy
  • Engaging in yoga and meditation 
  • Being admitted to a psychiatric care facility

If you suspect someone you know has schizophrenia, talk to the person and encourage them to get help. Take the initiative to make an appointment for them to see a psychiatrist, get them counseling and take them to their sessions. Although you cannot force people you love to seek treatment, you can call for emergency responders if you suspect that the individual will inflict self-harm or hurt others.

If someone you love has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and they’re living with you while they’re waiting to potentially be admitted into a psychiatric facility, know that you may be putting yourself in danger, especially if you’re not ensuring that they’re taking their medication each day.

Not everyone with schizophrenia is dangerous, but there are risks if you’re living with someone who has this mental illness.

Hannah Wabe
116 posts

About author
Hannah Victoria Wabe has an MA in Development Communication, which shows how just much she loves and believes in the power of words. She works part-time as a writer and educator but works full-time as a mother of three kids, ranging from 8 to 18. Though she’s not a big fan of math, she believes in counting blessings and imbibes an attitude of gratitude.
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