Schizophrenia is a severe and debilitating disorder characterized by disturbances in thought, emotion and behavior. The symptoms of schizophrenia have profound effects on the lives of patients as well as their family and friends. Symptoms often make employment and social interaction difficult. Schizophrenia is typically a lifelong illness, but there are treatment options, and current research is seeking new effective and safer treatments.
Individuals with schizophrenia may experience:
Alogia: Decrease in speech or difficulty with content of speech in which one cannot effectively communicate information to others
Anhedonia: Loss of interest and loss of experienced pleasure in positive things
Asociality: Severe impairments in social relationships
Avolition: Apathy towards or a lack of energy or interest in previously routine activities.
Delusions: False beliefs that cannot be changed by contradictory evidence and are not explained by a person's cultural beliefs. Delusions may include the belief that one is being harassed, others mean them harm or they are receiving special messages through the television or radio
Disorganized behavior: Inexplicable agitation, bizarre dress, food hoarding, garbage collecting, inappropriate sexual behavior and childlike behavior
Disorganized thoughts: Difficulty concentrating or focusing attention; difficulty thinking in a logical sequence; fragmented thoughts
Emotional flattening: "Blunted" affect or a reduction in emotional expressivity; social withdrawal
Hallucinations: Perceptions in the absence of a real source (such as hearing voices that other people do not hear
Causes and Risk Factors
Schizophrenia has a genetic component and a family history of schizophrenia predisposes one to developing the disorder. Certain life stressors can influence the onset and development of the disorder. Onset typically occurs in late adolescence and early adulthood. Other risk factors may include:
- Drug and alcohol use
- Family discord
- Low socioeconomic status
For a doctor to make a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the patient must be currently experiencing:
- Two or more of the following symptoms for a significant portion of the time, for at least one month: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thought, disorganized behavior, avolition, alogia, flat affect, asociality.
- Decline in social and occupational functioning since onset
- Signs of disturbance for at least six months; at least one month duration for the symptoms listed above
Doctors treat schizophrenia in a number of ways, including the use of:
- Antipsychotic Drugs: Medication can alleviate many of the symptoms of schizophrenia and are an indispensable part of treatment of this disorder. However, medications introduce numerous and diverse side effects. Additionally, it is difficult for many patients to remain compliant with their medication routine
- Psychological Treatment: Family therapy, social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy
- Residential Treatment: When patients function well enough not to require hospitalization, but are unable to live alone or with their families in the community, residential treatment is a common option. These are protected living units where patients live while they gradually transition back to community life. Development of new drug and treatment options: Current research aims to develop new, more effective treatments with fewer side effects.