What is Schizophrenia?

Patients with schizophrenia have a mental health disorder in which the brain synapses that control thoughts, feelings, and actions begin to misfire. As a result, patients may withdraw from personal relationships or disconnect with reality.

Approximately 3.2 million Americans live with this disorder, and yet many people seriously misunderstand schizophrenia. Patients can develop the disorder at any part of their lives, but most experience their first symptoms in early adulthood.

Although most mental health disorders can go away, patients with schizophrenia live with the disorder for their whole lives. While people with schizophrenia can never entirely get rid of this illness, they can manage their symptoms and live healthy lives with treatment. If they discontinue treatment, the problems return.

When schizophrenia activates, patients experience difficulties with several cognitive functions that other people take for granted. Patients may have trouble with motivation, memory, and concentration. Untreated schizophrenia also causes patients to perceive reality, express emotions, and connect to others in different ways.

Myths About Schizophrenia

Although all mental health patients face some stigmatization, people particularly misunderstand schizophrenia. The general lack of knowledge about the disorder and misinformed representations in media feed into untruths about the disease and the people who live with it. Busting these myths is an essential step in helping patients seek the treatments they need.

Myth: Schizophrenia means that someone has multiple personalities
Sixty-four percent of adults in the United States believe that people with schizophrenia live with several personalities in their minds. This belief is false. Not only are multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia distinct illnesses, but they have very little in common.

Myth: People with schizophrenia are inherently violent
Unfortunately, many people believe that people who live with schizophrenia act out in violence. Sometimes, people with schizophrenia do become violent, but the same is true for people who do not have the disorder. Cases in which people with schizophrenia commit violent acts often come with mitigating factors, such as substance abuse.

Myth: Patients with schizophrenia should only live in mental institutions
The persistent misunderstandings around schizophrenia lead many people to believe that people with the disorder need to be locked in mental hospitals without hope of re-entering society. Not only is this idea outdated, but it keeps people with schizophrenic symptoms from seeking the treatment they need. They fear being outcast from society, and so suffer needlessly.

Patients today receive compassion and effective treatment. Patients who do go into residential treatment do so to keep themselves safe and typically stay for short periods.

Schizophrenia Causes

Mental health researchers continue to search for the precise causes of schizophrenia. Studies suggest that genetics play a large role in determining who develops the disorder. Furthermore, certain environmental factors may have links to the disorder. For example, when women get exposed to certain viruses or toxins during pregnancy, their babies have higher rates of schizophrenia.

According to current research, risk factors for the disorder include:

  • Schizophrenia in a person’s biological family history
  • Certain autoimmune disorders
  • Drug use during a person’s adolescence and early adulthood
  • A biological mother who had specific pregnancy difficulties
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Biological fathers above the average age

Is Schizophrenia Genetic?

Clearly, genes are not the only known risk factor for schizophrenia. However, it does play a serious role. Currently, experts believe that several genes may contribute to the inheritance of schizophrenia, instead of the mutation of just one gene.

While having a parent or grandparent with schizophrenia increases a person’s risk of having the disorder, it does not guarantee this fate. In fact, one identical twin can develop schizophrenia while the other never does. This suggests that some environmental factors play a role.

Anyone who worries that they may get or pass on schizophrenia should consult with a professional.

Schizophrenia Symptoms

Schizophrenia affects many areas and processes of the brain. As such, patients experience a wide array of symptoms. The disorder also affects each person differently. However, some common signs of schizophrenia include:

  • Lack of memory
  • Delusions
  • Poor hygiene practices
  • Catatonia
  • Hallucinations
  • Low energy and depressed mood
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Disorganized speech or thought patterns
  • Monotone speech
  • Distancing oneself from loved ones
  • Decreasing performance in school or work
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in once-loved activities
  • Paranoia
  • Fidgeting or ticks

It’s important to know that some of these symptoms may indicate other mental illnesses. Only a mental health professional can diagnose someone with any mental disorder, including schizophrenia.

Tests & Diagnosis for Schizophrenia

Because schizophrenia is a lifelong disorder and requires intensive treatment, psychiatrists must be absolutely certain before diagnosing a patient with this disorder. First, medical doctors give patients physical examinations to look for any problems that could cause similar symptoms. This may include imaging tests, like MRIs and CT scans.

The scans may show seizures or traumatic brain injuries, which can explain the symptoms without schizophrenia. If the patient does have schizophrenia, doctors may see altered brain activity that alerts them to this diagnosis.

The diagnostic process also involves psychiatric evaluations. Patients talk about their signs, personal histories, and any mental illnesses in their families. Due to the nature of the disorder, some people with schizophrenia need loved ones with them to help in this part of the process.

Although the process seems daunting, it gives the care team a full picture of the patient’s mental health. This information allows them to make an accurate diagnosis and map out treatment plans.

Treatments for Schizophrenia

If the lengthy diagnostic process reveals a patient has schizophrenia, he or she will need treatment for life. The patient’s care team may include nurses, social workers, therapists, and psychiatrists. Each person in the care team plays a role in helping the patient overcome symptoms.

Often, newly diagnosed patients need to stay in residential treatment centers for a little while. Care teams treat the most dangerous symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts or hallucinations. This stay may include medications and talk therapy. Once patients become stable, they can often return to their homes.

When people with schizophrenia live outside residential treatment, they must still attend regular therapy sessions and medication management appointments. Psychiatrists often prescribe antipsychotic medications for such patients. However, people with schizophrenia may also need anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants. The right dosages of each can help keep symptoms at bay.

Therapists help patients learn what may set off their symptoms and better ways to deal with these triggers. They also help patients process the intense emotions that a lifelong diagnosis can bring on. Sometimes, the person’s family and friends participate in therapy sessions to learn how to best support their loved one.

Are you or a loved one suffering from the symptoms of schizophrenia? Search our database to find an Orlando Psychiatrist near you!