Schizophrenia

Overview of Condition

Schizophrenia is a long-term disorder of the mind that can affect how oen thinks, feels, and behaves and is associated with a loss of contact with reality. It can be diagnosed by identifying persistent symptoms such as: delusions, hallucinations, decreased levels of energy, reduced range of emotions, or disorganized thoughts, speech or behavior. This can be a time of intense confusion and disorientation for your loved one.


Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness commonly diagnosed between the ages for 15 and 35, and is attributed to abnormal functioning of the brain. While there are currently no known causes of schizophrenia, research has identified a combination of factors that can increase the risk of developing the disorder such as genetics, childhood aversity, increased levels of dopamine, and drug use. 

Signs/Symptoms

Symptoms for schizophrenia vary for each individual but are put into two categories; positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms refer to symptoms that are added in beyond normal human experiences and distort psychological function. Negative symptoms refer to behavioral changes that suggest a decrease or loss of normal psychological functionality. 

A more sobering symptom is that about half of people with schizophrenia cannot recognize that they are sick. We say they lack "insight" into their illness and this is one of the reasons why they may not feel they need treatment. 

Positive Symptoms

Hallucinations

A person suffering from psychosis may, hear, see, smell, taste or feel something that is not actually there. They may be seen responding to internal stimuli, like voices that only they can hear. These stimuli are very real to the affected individual but may seem falso to someone unaffected.

Delusions

Affected individuals may fervently believe in certain things that have no evidence based in reality. For example, delusions can cause paranoia, such as believing they are being conspired against or followed by others. Other common experiences of delusions are things like gransiosity, thought broadcasting, and experience of external control - feeling that others are controlling their thoughts or actions.

Thought Disorder

A person suffering from psychosis often has trouble with mental clarity. This could include a change in their rate of thinking, such as rapid thought process or a stunted rate of thought, which can lead to disorganized thinking and confusion. They may jump rapidly from thought to thought with no apparent connection between those thoughts.

Negative Symptoms

Change in Emotional Response

A person suffering from psychosis may exhibit a change in their emotional responses, such as not reacting quite so intensily or enthusiastically as they used to.

Low levels of activity

Some people may have difficulty finding energy for normal daily activities. Family and friends may find that they need to adjust their expectations of what their loved one will be able to do.

Isolation or Withdrawal

The individual may feel less interested in spending time with family and friends, or in previous interests and activities.

Anosognosia or Lack of Insight

Anosognosia, or lack of insight into one's own illness, is a more sobering symptom of serious mental illness and affects about half of the individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. Lack of insight can get in the way of our loved ones taking part in treatment and may leave caregivers struggling for ways to help.

Treatment Options

Numerous treatment options are available. Often individuals lead normal lives as an active member of society. There are treatments and therapies to help decrease symptoms; however, most individuals with schizophrenia will experience some symptoms indefinitely. Treatment for schizophrenia can require a combination of antipsychotic medications, psychological and cognitive therapy, and other alternative therapies.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, is a form of talk therapy that can help individuals manage their symptoms by changing the way they think and behave. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but has also shown efficacy in treating schizophrenia.

Caring for someone with Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia symptoms may be challenging for family members to cope with. Symptoms like hallucinations and delusions can be confusing, and cognitive deficits, fatigue, and perceived loss of motivation can dramatically change personalities. This may result in family members not understanding how to help or support their loved one.

Often the task of providing care to loved ones with mental illness falls to a parent, family member, or friend. But being a caregiver can be very stressful and burdensome. It often leaves the caregiver with little or no time to tend to his/her own needs.  Approximately 63% of caregivers admit not having enough time for themselves, and 55% admit that they don't have time to manage their own health. Routine visits to the doctor are essential to ask for advice and assistance with caregiving, especially since caregiving is known to have mental health consequences for the caregiver, including the increased likelihood of depression, insomnia, and anxiety.

Key Facts

  • Schizophrenia is a condition that affects thinking, feeling and behavior and causes people to have abnormal experiences.
  • There is no single cause for schizophrenia, and it is still not fully understood. It is likely to be caused by a combination of factors.
  • It is most likely to start between the ages of 15 and 35 and affects about 1% of the population.
  •  Many people think that schizophrenia makes people violent - this is the exception, not the rule. People with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence by others and are at greater risk of suicide than of being violent to others.