2.2 million, that is the number of people in the United States who live with the mental disorder known as Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined as a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves (NIMH,2016) and affects around 1% of the population. Its symptoms usually appear between the ages of 16 and 30. The disorder is found to affect males and females equally but does tend to have an early onset in males. The symptoms of Schizophrenia are placed into three categories, positive, negative and cognitive.
Positive symptoms are psychotic behaviors not typically seen in healthy people. Such behaviors include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder and movement disorders. When experiencing hallucinations patients may also hear voices and seem to have “lost touch” with reality.
Negative symptoms are changes to normal emotions and behaviors. These symptoms may cause “flat affect” which is a decrease in the display of emotions via facial expressions or voice tone. Also, they may have reduced feelings of happiness in day to day life, difficulty beginning and completing a task and decreased speaking.
Cognitive symptoms affect the memory or thinking process. People with Schizophrenia may have difficulty focusing, gathering their thoughts and struggle to remember things. The working memory where newly learned information is stored for immediate use is a specific area of memory affected.
There are three common causes of Schizophrenia, genetics, environment and brain chemistry. Having a family history of mental illness increases a person’s chance of developing Schizophrenia. It has been found that 10% of people with a first degree relative such as a parent or sibling also have the disorder. It is possible also to have the disorder without these factors. There is not one specific gene that appears to cause the disorder, but rather a combination of different genes.
Environmental factors such as exposure to viruses, malnutrition in the womb, and complications during delivery also increase the risk of developing Schizophrenia. Another environmental factor is substance abuse. The use of certain drugs such as marijuana during the teen and young adult years can play a role in the development.
Issues with brain chemistry can also play a role in the development of Schizophrenia. The chemistry of the brain can be affected by imbalances of the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate. These neurotransmitters are what aid in the communication between brain cells.
There are different forms of treatment available to help treat Schizophrenia. Currently there is no known cause for the disorder. Frequently people with schizophrenia are unaware they have it. The term for this is anosognosia and can potentially make treatment more difficult.
Antipsychotic medications are used to help reduce symptoms and prevent future relapses. They are typically taken daily as a pill or liquid, but sometimes received via injections once or twice a month.
Psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and supportive psychotherapy are another method used by Psychologist. They are can be used alone or in conjunction with an antipsychotic medication. These therapies teach proper coping skills on how to handle the daily challenges of life with Schizophrenia. Developing these aids in helping patients achieve goals such as employment. With the right treatment and support most people with Schizophrenia go on to live healthy and highly productive lives.