What is Schizophrenia? | Symptoms & Treatments
Schizophrenia: A mental disorder
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that interferes with the cognitive and emotional health of a person. About 1% of the world population suffers from the mental problem. In fact, Schizophrenia ranks among the top 10 disability in developed countries.
Schizophrenic patients have an altered perception of their surroundings for which they face a hard time processing reality. Their relations with family and friends also suffer due to it. They face problems interacting in social and work environments.
Given their mental conditions, they are unable to coordinate their thoughts and actions, unlike an average person. Besides, schizophrenia also increases the risk of premature death.
Among the males, the disorder commonly occurs between teen years and late 20s, and among females, it is between the late 20s and 30s. However, it is most unlikely to be seen among children and old people.
Neuroimaging studies have also shown that the brain structures of a schizophrenic patient are different from that of a normal person. Clearly, schizophrenia is a serious brain disease. And there is no explicit treatment for it too.
Initially, the patient or his family may not be able to detect the sickness. Because the symptoms pertaining to the disorder takes time to develop. However, the illness shows initial warning signs too such as-
- Mood swings
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Fearful of surroundings
Causes of Schizophrenia
Those whose brain has an imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate stands at a higher chance of Schizophrenia. Studies have also showed that schizophrenic patients have a higher level of dopamine than normal people.
One study revealed that Schizophrenia is inheritable. There is a high risk of genetic transfer of the disease by about 47%.
Drugs can alter and damage the mind permanently, resulting in schizophrenia. So, too much intake of psychoactive mind-altering drugs like tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana can cause more neurological damage one can imagine.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
There are two types of symptoms one can see among schizophrenic patients.
Known as ‘positive’ symptoms because these symptoms get added on to the patient’s experiences. Among the positive symptoms, the most common are
Delusions are the false beliefs about someone or something- which becomes the twisted version of their reality. The beliefs of such patients are so strong that nobody can change their minds. They believe that they are more intelligent and a blessing to humankind. It is this reason why schizophrenia is so hard to cure.
There are different types of delusions one can experience.
Delusion of persecution
Patients with this type of delusion believe that someone is following them or wants to harm them.
Delusion of control
These patients imagine that their world is controlled by some forces like aliens or a secret agency.
Delusion of grandeur
Patients under this group have an illusion about their own selves. They feel that they are famous and important like God.
Schizophrenic patients commonly experience hallucinations. They see or hear unreal things. This happens because their brain meddles with the sensory inputs causing images and sounds that actually don’t exist.
This situation can be either harmless or dangerous. Sometimes it can create worries for the patient or the people around them. At times, the hallucinations can lure the victim to kill themselves or others.
If you have watched the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, you may have noticed that the protagonist (suffering from Schizophrenia) was persuaded several times to kill his wife and the loved ones. Such cases are common in extremely severe patients and they pose a high risk to society.
It must be noted though that these patients are not psychopathic in nature. They are brainwashed by their own mind and perceive the reality to be different. If they kill someone, they do it based on the perception of their own reality (which is, of course, a false reality). So, these cases must be isolated and hospitalized immediately.
The thoughts and the speech are uncoordinated in most of the schizophrenic patients. Such impaired communication forces them to speak in a messy and disorganized manner.
There is no relation between the environment and their behavior. Since their motor functions get damaged, schizophrenic patients often display agitated body movements. And they are unable to do most of the basic activities like eating, bathing by themselves.
It is called ‘negative’ symptoms because the patients lose a part of their normal self- as if some experiences are subtracted from their life.
A schizophrenic patient can experience either positive or negative or a mixture of both types of symptoms.
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Inability to maintain relationships
- Lack of movement or speech
- Disinterest in worldly affairs
- Lack of energy
- Inability to express emotions
- Lack of sexual pleasures
P.S. Schizophrenia medications suppress positive symptoms. But it cannot suppress the negative symptoms.
There is no direct treatment for schizophrenia. However, there are ways of treatments that can relieve the symptoms a little bit- so that a patient can live a normal life.
Along with the help of medicines, therapies can also help in recovering from mental disorders. Therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), Rehabilitation, Psychotherapy, Family Therapy, Group therapy can help a schizophrenic patient to some extent.
But, one must keep in mind that medications are vital in Schizophrenia cases. Though there is no permanent cure for the patients, they must take the medications throughout for a better life.
ECT or Electroconvulsive Therapy
In severe or dangerous cases, ECT can be used. It is basically giving small electric shocks to the brain. Though it is not common these days, some psychiatrist can recommend depending on the seriousness of the case.
Known to be used for major depressive disorder, the seizure caused by the ECT helps in mood improvement. So, indirectly a schizophrenic patient can also get benefited from the ECT.