What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a disorder characterized by a deteriorating ability to function in everyday life and by some combination of hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders, movement disorders, and inappropriate emotional expressions. Schizophrenia typically begins in early adulthood. The symptoms vary so greatly that you could easily find several people with the same diagnosis who have almost nothing in common. Schizophrenia can either be acute or chronic. An acute condition has a sudden onset and good prospects for recovery. A chronic condition has a gradual onset and a long-term cause.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is characterized by both new behaviors appearing and usual behaviors becoming absent.
Negative symptoms include weak social interactions, emotional expression, speech and working memory. These symptoms are usually stable over time and difficult to treat. New behaviors usually fall into two clusters: psychotic and disorganized. The psychotic cluster consists of delusions and hallucinations. The disorganized cluster of symptoms consists of inappropriate emotional displays, bizarre behaviors, incoherent speech, and thought disorders. The most typical thought disorder is a difficulty understanding and using abstract concepts.
Causes of Schizophrenia
There is no one cause of schizophrenia. Research shows that schizophrenia is influenced by a combination of factors, including genetics, psychological ailments, chronic illness, brain chemistry and structure, and life experiences. Symptoms vary from person to person. There are influences that can increase one’s chance of developing schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia tends to run in families. However, accumulating evidence indicates that although the condition has a genetic basis, not one gene is thought to be responsible. It’s more likely that different combinations of genes make people more vulnerable to the condition. However, having these genes doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop schizophrenia. The closer one is biologically related to someone with schizophrenia, the greater the chances of developing the condition. This is exemplified through twin studies. The risk is highest for an identical twin of a person with schizophrenia. He or she has a 40 to 65% chance of developing the disorder. The trend remains even if the twins are raised separately.
Pregnancy and post-pregnancy have also been studied in relation to schizophrenia. Research shows that the risk of schizophrenia is elevated among individuals who had problems that could have affected their brain development. Causes may include, premature birth, poor nutrition of the biological mother, low birth weight, a lack of oxygen (asphyxia) during delivery and other complications during birth. Schizophrenia has also been linked to head injuries in early childhood and mild brain abnormalities relating to the structure of certain brain regions.
Treatments and Medication
It used to be thought that recovery from schizophrenia was rare. However, evidence now suggests that schizophrenia can be a treatable illness and recovery is sometimes possible. It has been advised that anyone providing treatment and care for people with schizophrenia should work in partnership with people with schizophrenia and their carers. Creating and maintaining an atmosphere of hope and optimism is also important to successful treatment.
Treatment for schizophrenia usually involves a variety of strategies to reduce the symptoms of the disease over the long term. Antipsychotic medications are often an important part of treatment. Such medications usually need to be taken daily to be effective. Chlorpromazine relieves the positive symptoms of schizophrenia for most, but not all, patients. This antipsychotic drug among others (such as Haldol), act as dopamine receptor blockers. Dopamine is a chemical that is released in the brain that regulates movement, motivation, pleasure and emotional arousal. The theory is that schizophrenia is caused by excess dopamine in the brain and Parkinson’s is caused by low levels of dopamine. Research shows that antipsychotic drugs that are more effective in reducing levels of dopamine are the most effective against schizophrenia.
This generation of antipsychotic medication can lead to tardive dyskinesia. This is characterised by tremors and involuntary movements that can last long after a patient ceases consuming the drug. Therefore, a second-generation of antipsychotics have been developed to alleviate schizophrenia without developing this movement problem. The most common example is Clozapine and these drugs are more widely used today.
Psychotherapy is a valuable part of treatment. Psychologists can help people with schizophrenia cope with the difficult effects of the disease, including challenges related to self-care, work, school, and relationships. These professionals take the time to build supportive and empathic relationships as an essential part of care. Family interventions in which relatives participate in therapy sessions may be particularly helpful for people with schizophrenia.
- A 2001 review of studies found that family interventions reduce rates of psychotic relapse or rehospitalization by 20%.
- Schizophrenia Ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide.
- If medication for schizophrenia is discontinued, the relapse rate is about 80% within 2 years. With continued drug treatment, only about 40% of recovered patients will suffer relapses.
- After 10 years, of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia: 25% Completely Recover; 25% Much Improved, relatively independent; 25% Improved, but require extensive support network; 15% Hospitalized, unimproved; 10% Dead (Mostly Suicide).
Kalat, James. Biological psychology. Nelson Education, 2015.
Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Psychology. New York: Worth.