What is Schizophrenia? All Facts in 10 minutes

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that needs proper care and treatment. Unfortunately in our society, such diseases are not taken seriously and people usually keep away from these patients. This leads to the deterioration in the health of the patients. The stigma associated with mental illnesses like Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and others needs to be broken.

Get to know all about schizophrenia in this article in just 10 minutes.

1. Definition

More than a century ago schizophrenia was first identified. It is still now one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized illnesses. It is considered a syndrome which means it may include several other related disorders that have similar symptoms but varying causes. It affects the brain and leads to difficulty with thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

2. Symptoms

Symptoms of schizophrenia vary from person to person. Schizophrenia affects different people in different ways. Not every schizophrenic patient will have the exact same symptoms. Neither will they face the symptoms at the same degree of intensity.

Symptoms aren’t always visible and also they do not occur at a particular time or interval. The time these symptoms occur is known as ‘Episodes’.

There are two types of symptoms-

  • POSITIVE SYMPTOMS
  • NEGATIVE SYMPTOMS
  • COGNITIVE SYMPTOMS

The initial signs can be easy to miss –

  • Subtle personality change
  • Irritability
  • Unusual thoughts

During these symptoms people start experiencing hallucinations or delusional and confusing thoughts. These fall under the positive symptoms.

Other symptoms include

  • Reduced motivation
  • The difference in expression of emotion
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Remembering information
  • Making decisions

All these are negative symptoms.

Then comes the cognitive symptoms which are in a way similar to that of Negative symptoms but not entirely. It is very difficult for the patient as well the people around him/her when these ‘episodes’ take place, but we need to keep in mind that they need our help more than we know.

Positive symptoms

  • JUMBLED THOUGHT PROCESS

This is almost like an internal battle. You feel at war with yourself . It almost feels like a gap in your thoughts.

  • DELUSIONAL BEHAVIOR

You always keep thinking that other people want to hurt you and that everyone wants to hurt you and that everyone hates you.

This also leads to one’s thinking that they are someone very important. Patients also feel that others are controlling them.

  • HALLUCINATIONS

You start imagining the wildest things that probably won’t make a lot of sense to other people.

Negative symptoms

  • Lacking Motivation : Interest loss. This is also called Avolition.
  • People lose interest in the things they used to love the most
  • Loss of emotions like joy, sorrow etc
  • Feeling down and hopeless – These are some symptoms that are often mistaken as depression or anxiety, but in reality, they are associated with schizophrenia.
  • Alogia – Losing control over speech. The train of thoughts in a person’s mind gets interrupted before he speaks it out thus resulting in the poverty of speech. Generally, this is rather known as ‘being all over the place’. E.g: “How are you ?” Ans: Yes.

3. Phases of schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia go through three major phases.

  • Prodromal Phase: During this phase the patient starts cutting ties with everyone and everything they once held dear in their lives. They withdraw themselves from their daily activities. All these are often mistaken for other mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
  • Active phase : During this phase the patient starts showing the positive symptoms.
  • Residual phase : After the active phase comes the residual phase where the patient exhibits the negative symptoms like losing interest, getting demotivated or going along with the symptoms of the prodromal phase all over again.

4. Causes

Although we still don’t know the exact cause of this mental disorder.

But there is a clue that the majority of the anti-psychotic drugs used in case of schizophrenia, block the dopamine receptor D2, which reduces dopamine levels in neurons. But again this is not a proven fact but only a hypothesis so there’s nothing we can comment about it yet.

Other than this there are some other factors that might be held accountable for its triggers.

  1. GENES : Although there is no scientific proof or establishment of any theory yet but it is noticed that schizophrenia runs in the genes. A kid having schizophrenia in his/her background is more likely to develop it rather than a kid without a history of schizophrenia in his/her genes. This factor is supported by several studies. Although there is no proof of it yet, doctors believe in this factor more.
  2. DISRUPTION OR CHEMICAL IMBALANCE : Often some chemical imbalance in the brain can be the cause behind this. Link has been found between Serotonin and Dopamine to schizophrenia. Certain medications can help cure it if predicted in the early stages. All these are found to be triggering but they don’t have any established truth yet.
  3. ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS : Also, environmental factors, like early or prenatal exposure to infection. Also, stressful environment is a trigger.
  4.  Schizophrenia is often linked with autoimmune diseases.
  5.  Finally, another important set of clues is that it is noticed that occurrence of schizophrenia  in men is slightly more than women.

5. Cure and diagnosis

Treatment is symptom based. Depending on the unique case, a combination of anti-psychotic drugs and other means of therapy might be used in conjunction.

Also it can be helped by setting clear goals, talking with others, knowing what is the right thing for you.

Also not taking medication and leaving therapy just because you think it is not important enough can cause hindrance to recovery.

6. A case study

Two of my very close friends happen to be schizophrenic and I got to know about their details.

One described it like “ I have psychotic episodes a lot. I tend to believe that demons are out there and one day they will hunt me down and kill me. Right now I can rationally say that it was a part of an episode. But that thing … When it happens it feels all so terrifying and real.”

The other one went into more of a detailed description of his schizophrenia. He described what he went through right from his childhood till now.

He had a history of:

(From when he was a child and some symptoms still present in adulthood)

  • speech delay
  • incredibly delusional personality and sensory perspective of himself and troubled changes in bizarre behaviors
  • developmentally delayed chronological age
  • developmentally delayed IQ
  • late toilet training and problems with tying his shoes
  • some symptoms related to dyslexia ( he had trouble reading, but it slowly improved)
  • some coordination problems ( He doesn’t have coordination problems anymore)
  • developmentally delayed social skills ( used to have trouble understanding verbal and non-verbal social cues and had abnormal eye contact when he was a child and a young teenager and used to have blank facial expressions)
  • used to not cry( when he needed something when he was a toddler)
  • disorganized speech
  • strange facial expressions
  • self-abusive behaviors in frustration ( such as, head banging and hitting himself in the head for sensory needs or when routine changed and when he could not communicate correctly at that time ) (From childhood to adulthood )
  • Had troubles when there was a change of environment.

 ( From childhood to adulthood ) 

( ADHD was discovered when he was a young teenager and he is still taking medication for it. ) 

  • unusually hyperactive
  • trouble with focus
  • spacing out
  • drifting out

Descriptions of mental health problems that he suffers from time to time

  •  He sometimes exhibits milder forms of Schizotypal Personality Disorder symptoms from then and now, ever since I suffered from a mental health crisis in 2016.
  •  He developed Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and some form of Delusional Disorder ( even though he only has a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Catatonia) because he believed that the military was after him, that the aliens exist, etc and some antisocial symptoms similar to Antisocial personality disorder is also recorded in his medical history.
  • He lied, deceived others, was aggressive, had delusional racial thoughts about others ( people of black color), and also had grandiose delusions as he also believed that he was a robot as well.

 He has a history of: 

  • Mood swings
  • Lying
  • Deceiving
  • History of stealing ( was never in trouble with the police, his special needs teachers handled his misbehavior)
  • Abnormal sense of empathy and remorse ( used to have that problem but then he started to have empathy and remorse )
  • Grandiose and paranoid delusions
  • Running away
  • Violent actions

But in spite of all these difficulties, both of them are undergoing therapy and taking psychotic drugs in the hope of living an independent life once again.

7. Words of advice

For people with schizophrenia

  • Things are going to be hard. But eventually one day they will be okay. Forgive yourself.
  • Don’t be ashamed of yourself. This is a serious disorder and none of this is your fault.
  • Even on those rainy days when the world seems to be covered in grey, do not lose hope; because there never has been a storm that’s lasted forever. The sun is always present and it too will find its way back through the clouds. Do not give up. I promise there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
  • The future is full of possibilities, your past does not define you. Don’t be hard on yourself thinking about the things that you have done due to this illness.
  • Sometimes emotions arise without reasons or justification, there is no answer to why the pain is there. And that is okay. You are a human too.

For people around the patients

  • Pay attention to these people. They are your friends and family and they need you more.
  • Trauma responses can be hard to notice but you need to look for the red flags and take action accordingly.
  • Don’t demonizing and support them.
  • Be understanding.
  • Reach out to these people. Again, schizophrenia is not a shameful thing.
  • Schizophrenia doesn’t make a person less worthy of love.

Take care of yourself and your near and dear ones!

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Utsa Chakraborty

An ardent daydreamer who also happens to be an engineering student.