May 24th, 2021 is Schizophrenia Awareness Day. Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects 20 million people worldwide. Schizophrenia is more common in males than females and typically starts earlier among men. It is associated with considerable disability and often impacts an individual's educational, occupational, or social performance - but it does not have to! In this article, we will discuss what schizophrenia is, how it affects individuals worldwide, and how stigma may contribute to poor outcomes for those living with this debilitating condition.
I'm sure you've heard the myth that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities, but this is not true. In the same way, we all only have one personality. These patients are just like us in every other aspect of their lives too. A common symptom for those who have schizophrenia can be a lack of coordination between thoughts, actions, and emotions, affecting how they interact and what they do at any given time! A person doesn't need to hear voices or see things that aren’t there to qualify as having Schizophrenia-- it's actually more about symptoms such as confused thinking, delusions, and hallucinations.
The symptoms of schizophrenia generally fall into three categories:
Psychotic Symptoms include altered perceptions (e.g., changes in vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste), abnormal thinking, and odd behaviors. People with psychotic symptoms may lose a shared sense of reality and experience themselves or the world in a distorted way specifically; individuals typically have hallucinations such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not there; delusions which are firmly held beliefs unsupported by objective facts like paranoia.
Non-psychotic Symptoms can come about suddenly due to an event called sensitization, where one has a sensitivity to stimuli they don’t ordinarily react strongly to; for example, someone who is brand new to walking on hot coals will feel intense pain, whereas seasoned walkers won’t be bothered.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia include a lack of interest in daily life, social withdrawal, difficulty showing emotions, and functioning normally. In some cases, individuals have:
- Reduced motivation to plan or initiate tasks
- Diminished feelings while performing activities that they would typically enjoy (i.e., shopping)
- "Flat affect" means the individual does not show emotion through facial expressions or voice tone
The cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are often subtle for some but more prevalent for others. In general, people with this condition experience three primary problems: difficulty processing information to make decisions, trouble using the information they just learned in a new context and focusing or paying attention.
Everything we do depends on how well our brain is functioning - whether it remembers someone's name at work, learning how to cook dinner after being home all day caring for children, or making sure that you get up before your toddler does (if she doesn't have school today). A great deal about what happens in these areas can be attributed specifically to one area of the brain called "the prefrontal cortex." This region plays an important role when working through complex tasks like following
Several factors contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia.
Genetics: Schizophrenia sometimes runs in families, but it is important to know that just because someone has schizophrenia does not mean other members will get it as well. It's a complicated issue--genetic studies strongly suggest many different genes increase the chance of getting this disorder while still no single gene causes by itself for development and symptoms. Unfortunately, genetic information cannot be used presently to predict who'll develop psychosis; however, newer tests on the market can help indicate whether or not you have certain genetic markers with increased risks.
Environment: Scientists are always looking for new ways to help people who have schizophrenia. The environment may play a role in developing this mental illness, and scientists believe that understanding how will lead them towards treatments or cures. The findings suggest environmental factors such as living in poverty, stressful surroundings, exposure to viruses before birth, AND nutritional problems can trigger lifelong effects on an individual's cognitive function. This is why it's important not only to understand what causes these conditions but also to work together with partners across sectors- including health facilities and schools -to provide care early when kids start showing signs of delayed growth or impaired cognition.
Scientists are still in the process of discovering what role genes may play when it comes to schizophrenia. Evidence suggests that interactions between genetic risk and aspects of an individual’s environment can lead them down a path towards developing this debilitating mental illness. Still, more research is needed before we know for sure whether there's one single cause or multiple factors at work here.
The complex nature of schizophrenia makes it difficult to pinpoint any one factor as being "responsible." Scientists think genetics might be involved--in which case they're looking closely into how different environmental influences interact with our DNA code---but believe other things such as how much stress someone experiences during their lifetime could also come into play.
There are still many things we need to learn about this serious mental illness. There are current treatment options, but I'm sure that more effective treatments will be discovered, in the future, with more research. One clear thing that with Schizophrenia and other mental health challenges, it's an interplay of the various aspects of our heath-emotional, intellectual, environmental, and social wellness. This again strongly reinforces my belief in the importance of holistic health.