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Guide to Schizophrenia Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

An image of a woman experiencing schizophrenia disorder symptoms

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

A diagnosis of schizophrenia disorder first involves ruling out other mental health conditions. It is also necessary to establish that symptoms are not triggered by a medical condition, medications, or substance abuse.

Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia does not refer to a split personality or multiple personalities. People suffering from schizophrenia are split off from reality rather than experiencing a splintered personality.

Schizophrenia is not rare either. The lifetime risk of developing this mental health disorder is roughly 1 in 100.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder characterized by problems distinguishing between reality and unreality. Schizophrenia affects the way you think and behave, and it also influences the way you view the world.

People suffering from schizophrenia often struggle to 

  • think clearly
  • relate to others effectively
  • manage emotions 

The overall effect can be highly disruptive to daily functioning.

Many people diagnosed with schizophrenia withdraw socially, experiencing outbursts of confusion and fear.

During psychotic episodes of schizophrenia and during periods of depression, the risk of attempting suicide is increased. The risk of suicide attempts is also heightened during the first six months of treatment.

Typically, the symptoms of schizophrenia manifest some time from the late teens to the early 30s. Symptoms usually develop earlier in males.

Occasionally, unusual behaviors manifest from childhood, becoming more significant over time. Often, though, the symptoms of schizophrenia present suddenly.

Although it is a lifelong condition, treatment can normally alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia to some degree.

Catatonic Schizophrenia

While health professionals once defined subtypes of depression like paranoid schizophrenia and catatonic schizophrenia, these classifications no longer apply.

Catatonia is a syndrome that can develop in some people with schizophrenia. This condition involves periods where the person may move little and fail to respond to instructions. At the other extreme, the person may demonstrate unusual motor activity in periods of catatonic excitement.

Catatonic states can also be found in mental illnesses other than schizophrenia, including depressive disorders, psychotic bipolar disorder, and certain neurodevelopmental conditions.

Modern treatments make it easier to manage symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia Causes

According to the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), schizophrenia likely occurs due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

The following elements might all contribute to an individual developing schizophrenia disorder:

  • Chemical brain imbalance
  • Trauma
  • Malnutrition before birth
  • Trauma during birth
  • Viral infections
  • Genetic inheritance

Is Schizophrenia Genetic?

You have less than 1% chance of developing schizophrenia if there is no family history of this condition.

However, if one of your parents is diagnosed with the disorder, your risk profile for schizophrenia rises.

So, while there is a genetic component to schizophrenia, this is not the only contributing factor.

An image of a woman with schizophrenia disorder

What are Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia impacts different people in different ways. Despite this, there are some common schizophrenia symptoms, including:

  • Reduced motivation
  • Confusing patterns of speech
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Problems with concentration and focus
  • Psychosis (hallucinations, delusions)

Additionally, an individual with schizophrenia may also appear anxious and generally out of sorts.

Schizophrenia is characterized by the following categories of symptoms:

  • Disorganized speech
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized behavior
  • Negative symptoms

Not everyone with schizophrenia will suffer from all of these symptoms, and the symptoms can change over time. The pattern and severity of schizophrenia symptoms varies considerably from person to person.

Disorganized speech

Schizophrenia can make it tough to maintain your train of thought, and it can also trigger problems with concentration that manifest in the way you speak. This can involve responding to questions with unrelated answers, changing topic mid-sentence, speaking incoherently, and making illogical statements.

The most common markers of disorganized speech among those with schizophrenia are:

  • Rapidly shifting topics with no discernible connection
  • Making up words or phrases
  • Repetition of words and statements

Hallucinations

Hallucinations are sounds and sensations that feel real but exist only in the mind.

Although hallucinations can involve all of the five senses, auditory hallucinations are most prevalent in schizophrenia. This sometimes involves misinterpreting self-talk as advice from an external source. Visual hallucinations are also relatively commonplace among those suffering from schizophrenia.

Delusions

A delusion is a belief or view someone holds firmly despite clear evidence it is untrue. Delusions are commonplace among those with schizophrenia, affecting up to 90% of people with this disorder.

In many cases, these delusions involve the following:

  • Persecution: Believing that someone is plotting to harm you.
  • Grandeur: Thinking you have special powers or that you are an important or famous figure.
  • Reference: Imagining that a person on a TV show or a billboard is sending you a personal message.
  • Control: Feeling that your thoughts and actions are being controlled by an external force.

Disorganized behavior

Schizophrenia interferes with all goal-directed activity. Additionally, the disorder precipitates symptoms that impair your ability to work, take care of yourself, and interact with others.

Disorganized behavior typically manifests as follows in schizophrenia:

  • Reduced impulse control
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Decline in daily functioning
  • Unpredictable emotional responses
  • Inappropriate reactions
  • Bizarre or purposeless behaviors

Negative symptoms

When applied to schizophrenia, negative symptoms refers to the absence of health behaviors, such as:

  • Minimal range of emotional expression
  • Loss of enthusiasm and interest
  • Little interest in the world
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulties with speech and conversation

Early Signs of Schizophrenia

Although the symptoms of schizophrenia occasionally manifest suddenly and with no warning, in most cases there is a gradual decline in functioning accompanied by noticeable warning signs. This often occurs before the first schizophrenic episode.

During this early phase of schizophrenia, you may appear to others as unmotivated, emotionless, reclusive, and eccentric. Increasingly, you may start neglecting your appearance, abandoning hobbies and interests, and struggling to perform at home, work, or school.

These are the most common early warnings signs of schizophrenia:

  • Expressionless gaze
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Drop in personal hygiene standards
  • Hostility and suspiciousness
  • Extreme reactions to criticism
  • Inability to express joy or sadness
  • Inappropriate crying or laughter
  • Forgetfulness
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Making irrational statements

Many of the above red flags can result from problems unrelated to schizophrenia. If you notice many of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, though, it is worth getting an evaluation from a mental healthcare professional.

Treatment of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a lifelong mental health condition, but schizophrenia treatment can help in the following areas:

  • Managing and alleviating symptoms
  • Preventing relapse
  • Avoiding hospitalization

Treatment needs to be tailored to the individual and may include:

  • Counseling: Working with a counselor or therapist can help you to develop more robust coping skills, enabling you to pursue your goals and improve your overall functioning.
  • Antipsychotic medications: Antipsychotic medications can be used daily, or less frequently in the case of injectables.
  • Coordinated special care: A holistic approach to schizophrenia treatment integrates family involvement, medication, psychosocial interventions, and educational services.

 

Schizophrenia Medication

Medications are central to the effective treatment of schizophrenia. The most prescribed medications are antipsychotics. This class of medication is believed to control the symptoms of schizophrenia due to the way the drugs affect dopamine levels in the brain.

The aim of medication-assisted treatment for schizophrenia is to efficiently manage symptoms using the lowest possible dose of antipsychotic medicines. A psychiatrist will often prescribe different drugs until finding a medication or combination of medications that alleviates symptoms. This can take several weeks.

Both antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can sometimes soothe symptoms of schizophrenia, too.

First-generation antipsychotics like chlorpromazine often induce serious side effects. For this reason, second-generation medications are now usually preferred. These medications pose a lesser risk of serious side effects. The most common examples include:

  • Geodon (ziprasidone)
  • Risperdal (risperidone)
  • Seroquel (quetiapine)
  • Invega (paliperidone)
  • Zyprexa (olanzapine)
  • Latuda (lurasidone)
  • Fanapt (iloperidone)
  • Versacloz (clozapine)
  • Vraylar (cariprazine)
  • Rexulti (brexpiprazole)
  • Saphris (asenapine)
  • Abilify (aripiprazole)
An image of Southern California near a schizophrenia disorder treatment facility

Mental Health Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If you or a loved one needs help with schizophrenia, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of mental health disorders here at Renaissance.

We offer treatment programs at all levels of intensity. If a standard outpatient program (OP) doesn’t deliver enough support and structure, we also offer more intensive programming in the form of IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs).

For anyone finding the symptoms of schizophrenia is stopping them from getting out, we can provide a virtual mental health treatment program to suit.

By engaging with research-based schizophrenia treatment (MAT and psychotherapy), you should notice an improvement in your overall functioning.To start experiencing more joy in life without the debilitating symptoms of schizophrenia holding you back, reach out to Renaissance today at 866.330.9449.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country