How Do I Know If I’m Suffering From Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is among the most complex of all mental health disorders. It involves a severe, chronic, and disabling disturbance of the brain. It was once classified as a psychological illness; however, it is now classified as a brain disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), worldwide prevalence estimates of schizophrenia range between 0.5% and 1%, and it affects men and women equally. However, age of first episode is typically younger among males (about 21 years of age) than women (27 years). Of individuals with schizophrenia, by age 30, 9 of 10 men, but only 2 of 10 women, will show symptoms of the disease. One of the most disturbing and perplexing characteristics of schizophrenia is the sudden onset of its psychotic symptoms.

According to UCLA Health System, the following are the most common symptoms of schizophrenia; however, symptoms vary between affected individuals:

  • Distorted perception of reality (e.g., difficulty telling dreams from reality)
  • Confused thinking (e.g., confusing television with reality)
  • Detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas
  • Suspiciousness and/or paranoia (fear that someone, or something, is going to harm them)
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real such as hearing voices telling them to do something)
  • Delusions (ideas that seem real but are not based in reality)
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Severe anxiety and/or fearfulness
  • Flat affect (lack of emotional expression when speaking) or inability to control emotions
  • Difficulty in performing functions at work and/or school
  • Exaggerated opinion of self-worth and/or unrealistic sense of superiority of one’s self
  • Social withdrawal (severe difficulty in making and keeping friends)
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior (suddenly becoming agitated and confused, or sitting and staring without motion
  • Odd behaviors

Children and schizophrenia

According to UCLA Health System, the symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults; however, in 80% of cases, children have auditory hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices). Children typically do not have delusions or formal thought disorder until their mid-teens or older. The symptoms of schizophrenia may resemble other problems or psychiatric conditions. Therefore, a healthcare provider should be consulted before concluding that you or a loved one suffers from schizophrenia. The definitive diagnosis is usually made by a psychiatrist.

Cause

There is no known single cause responsible for schizophrenia. It is considered to be a multifactorially inherited disease, which means that many factors are involved (genetic, behavioral, and environmental). It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor that is necessary for schizophrenia to develop.  

Treatment

Schizophrenia is a major psychiatric illness and treatment is complex. Specific treatment is based on: age, overall health, and medical history; extent of the disease; the patient’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies; expectations for the course of the disease; and the patient’s opinions and preferences. Treatment often includes medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, individual and family psychotherapy (including cognitive and behavioral therapy), specialized educational and/or structured activity programs (e.g., social skills training, vocational training, speech and language therapy), and self-help and support groups. A list of support groups for schizophrenia is available at this link.

Preventative measures

At present, according to University of Utah Health Care, preventive measures to reduce the incidence of schizophrenia are unknown; however, identification and early intervention can improve the quality of life experienced by affected individuals. Treatment is most successful when symptoms of the first psychotic episode are promptly addressed. It is of utmost importance for an individual who is prescribed medications for the treatment of schizophrenia to remain compliant (continue taking medication as prescribed). Dosages and types of medications often must be adjusted periodically to maintain effectiveness.

Further reading

A book, titled Schizophrenia, is written for anyone touched by the disease. The author, neuroscientist Ronald Chase, PhD has a keen interest in schizophrenia because of a personal experience with his brother, Jim, who suffered from the illness. The book has an interesting format that facilitates the understanding of what is known—and not known––about schizophrenia. Informative chapters containing scientific material are alternate with a chronicle of Jim Chase’s tragic life. Jim transitioned from an intelligent a gifted UCLA graduate student to a seriously ill man who required constant antipsychotic medication.