American Psychological Association defined schizophrenia as a serious and complex mental disorder that is heavily characterized by incoherent and illogical thought patterns, bizarre speech patterns and further by serious delusions and hallucinations. APA finds that the disorder mostly sets to produce its symptoms in a vulnerable individual during his or her late teens and even during his or her adulthood.
It is moreover, counted as a debilitating disorder as it weakens the affected individual not just mentally but also physically and emotionally and actively disrupts the person from effective management of their day-to-day tasks. It is further considered to be one of the major causes of psychosis and may affect all the walks of a person’s life involving their personal, professional, social, occupational and even educational functioning.
Schizophrenia, unfortunately, remains one of those mental illnesses that remains surrounded by ruthless stigma and taboo when it comes to open discussions regarding the same.
Schizophrenia can never be considered a rare occurrence. It is a fairly common disorder in today’s world, but not as frequently diagnosed in individuals as anxiety and depression. World Health Organization, has reported that schizophrenia affects about 24 million people worldwide, which is about 1 in every 300 individuals or 0.32% of people around the globe. As mentioned earlier, the onset of the disorder occurs during the twenties and late adolescence period of an individual’s life and men are found to have fallen prey to the disorder earlier than women. WHO also accounts that people who are suffering from the disorder are 2 to 3 times more likely to die earlier than other individuals.
It is unknown what causes schizophrenia, but experts believe that it is caused by a mix of genetics, brain chemistry, and environment. Problems with naturally existing brain chemicals, such as dopamine and glutamate neurotransmitters, may lead to schizophrenia. Neuroimaging studies demonstrate that patients with schizophrenia have different brain structures and central nervous systems. While scientists are unsure of the importance of these alterations, they do suggest that schizophrenia is a brain disorder. The most prevalent explanation proposed was the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia, which links psychosis to the mind’s incorrect interpretation of dopaminergic cell misfiring. This has been directly linked to delusional and hallucinatory symptoms. Because of the use of drugs that activate the dopamine receptor and the finding that dopamine levels rise during acute psychosis, abnormal dopamine signalling has been linked to schizophrenia. Certain variables, however, appear to enhance the likelihood of developing or causing schizophrenia, including:
- Having a schizophrenic family history
- Some pregnancy and delivery issues, such as starvation or exposure to chemicals or viruses, may influence brain development.
- Using mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) medications as an adolescent or young adult
Schizophrenia, unfortunately, is one among those mental illnesses that is manifested through multiple groups or sets of symptoms. Even though these symptoms may vary in their degree and intensity, most of them, if inflicted upon a person would certainly debilitate the person from effectively carrying out their daily activities. Schizophrenic individuals experience symptoms that can be broadly classified into two major categories:
Positive symptoms- These are the manifestations of the disorder that are experienced during a schizophrenic episode and are unusual in its nature. Major positive symptoms exhibited during a schizophrenic episode include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thoughts and speech.
a. Delusions- A delusion is a mistaken fixed belief that cannot be changed in the face of contradictory information. It differs from a belief based on erroneous or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, hallucination, or other perceptual distortions, because people with those views can modify or readjust their beliefs after assessing the facts. Some of the major types of delusions include:
- Religious Delusion– This involves the person believing that he or she is God or is chosen to act as God and to save the world.
- Delusion of Persecution: These involve the odd conviction that others are out to get them. They are the most prevalent.
- Delusions of Grandeur: These are delusions that one is a renowned or prominent person, such as Napoleon. They may also include the idea that they possess extraordinary abilities.
- Delusions of Reference: They are the notion that a neutral occurrence has a personal significance. They may believe, for example, that a billboard is delivering them a unique message.
- Delusion of Control: This involves the idea that other forces are controlling one’s thoughts or behavior. For example, individuals may believe, “Someone is planting thoughts in my head.”
b. Hallucinations– A hallucination occurs when one’s senses perceive something that does not exist. There are further different kinds of Hallucinations such as:
- Visual Hallucinations – seeing people and things that aren’t real
- Auditory Hallucinations – being able to listen to sounds and conversations that do not exist
- Tactile Hallucinations – Sensations (such as bugs crawling beneath your skin) or the impression of being touched when you are not
- Olfactory Hallucinations – Smelling something that does not have a physical cause (this is less common than visual and auditory hallucinations).
- Gustatory Hallucinations – Having an unidentified taste in your tongue
c. Unorganized Speech and Thinking – Affected individuals may suffer from serious issues of disorganized speech and thinking patterns. They may often jump from one topic of conversation to another rapidly, entangling their thoughts inside their minds. They may spontaneously invent new words and phrases to express things which may not be easily understood by other individuals and may also tend to experience morbid and intrusive thoughts frequently.
d. Unusual Motor Behaviors– These people may also exhibit unusual motor behaviors, which may include not moving from one position for the longest amount of time, or even staying in bizarre postures. These symptoms are collectively called catatonia.
Negative Symptoms – Negative symptoms collectively involve the lack of some usual human behaviors, like expression of emotions, production of speech, etc.
- Blunted Effect– As the name suggests, the emotions of a schizophrenic may remain blunted, i.e., they may show the least number of emotions or may not express any at all.
- Avolition – a serious decrease in the ability or motivation to carry out own activities.
- Alogia – A serious decrease or poverty in one’s speech
- Apathy – A lack of emotional understanding or emotional connection with other individuals
Schizophrenia cannot be cured however; it is frequently treated. People with schizophrenia can recover completely in a tiny percentage of situations. However, there is no way of knowing who will relapse and who will not. As a result, specialists consider patients who recover from this ailment to be “in remission.”
Typically, schizophrenia is treated with a mix of medication, therapy, and self-management approaches. These are some examples:
- Antipsychotics – These drugs prevent your brain from using particular molecules for cell-to-cell communication.
- Other Medicines – Your doctor may also prescribe additional drugs to treat symptoms that occur alongside or as a result of your schizophrenia symptoms. They may also prescribe drugs to assist lessen antipsychotic medication adverse effects such as tremors.
- Psychotherapy- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other types of talk therapy can assist you and help you reduce your symptoms.
- ECT – ECT stands for electroconvulsive treatment. If other therapies fail, your doctor may suggest ECT. This treatment includes applying an electrical current to your scalp, which activates certain areas of your brain. If you have severe sadness, agitation, or other difficulties, the stimulation triggers a short seizure, which can assist enhance brain function. You will be sedated if you get ECT. You will be sleeping during this treatment and will feel no discomfort.
There is no way to truly avoid schizophrenia. Identifying who is at risk and how to prevent the condition from emerging in at-risk people has been a major focus of researchers in recent years. Schizophrenia symptoms may go for a while and then reappear, however it is not impossible for an affected person to live a healthy, symptom-free life. Following your doctor’s advice will certainly aid one’s prognosis.