Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling that results in difficulty achieving previous levels of functioning in important aspects of an individual’s life (e.g. work, interpersonal relationships, academics, self-care, etc.). The development of schizophrenia is impacted by the environment (e.g. medical illness, substance use) an individual’s genetics, and physiology with symptom onset generally occurring between 20 and 30 years of age for males and females.
Signs and Symptoms
When hearing the disorder “schizophrenia” certain stereotypes may come to mind, but the truth is that symptoms of schizophrenia can vary. There are three major symptom categories: positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. It is important to note that a person experiencing the following symptoms may or may not be aware of them because they certainly feel real to them (e.g. a person that is hearing or seeing things that aren’t there may or may not know what is truly happening in their environment). This can pose challenges when addressing concerns with loved ones and is a primary reason that talking to someone about their symptoms or attending treatment should be done in a gentle and non-critical way. It can be helpful to acknowledge that everyone can see things in their own way, and remembering that this is an illness.
* Hallucinations, which are sensory experiences (e.g. hearing, seeing, smelling) that other people are not experiencing. E.g. Hearing familiar or unfamiliar voices, smelling intense scents, etc.
* Delusions, which are strong beliefs that a person continues to endorse despite new ideas or facts. Due to the strength of these beliefs, it can generate a lot of emotion when these beliefs are brought into question. Additionally, these beliefs can make it difficult to concentrate, leading to confusion.
* Unusual thought patterns
* Conversations can be difficult to follow
* Use of made up words
* Psychomotor agitation
* Flat voice
* Restricted or few facial expressions
* Reduced speaking
* Difficulty sustaining relationships or participating in activities
* Generally appearing disconnected
* Difficulty with memory, concentration, and/or decision making
* Challenges with organizing and expressing thoughts
* Reduced ability to complete tasks
* Lack of insight about the presence of illness, or anosognosia
Treatments for schizophrenia continues to improve over time. Currently, research supports a combination of medication and psychotherapy as best practice, as neither is found to be as effective alone; furthermore, psychosocial interventions, or programs that help support an individual adjust to life in recovery are recommended (e.g. case management services, family involvement in treatment). Through these interventions, individuals receive: education on schizophrenia and its treatment, assistance in learning problem solving and coping skills, emotional support, with the goal of preventing relapse, and improving problematic thinking and daily functioning. A leading form of therapy in treating schizophrenia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps to identify relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to achieve the goals stated above. The course of treatment for this condition is individualized and can depend on symptom severity and duration, among other factors.
If you feel that you or someone you know is struggling with schizophrenia, there is help available. There are many resources available to assist in the process of support and problem-solving for you and your loved one, including professional counseling. Call (215) 487-1330 or email us at Greenridge@intercommunityaction.org for more information about our counseling services, which include one-on-one therapy with a trained clinician.
Author: Erin Hopkins Stern, M.A.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Chien, W. T., & Yip, A. K. (2013). Current approaches to treatments for schizophrenia spectrum disorders, part I: An overview and medical treatments. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 9
National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.) Schizophrenia. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia
National Institute of Mental Health (2016). What is schizophrenia. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2018). Schizophrenia. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/mental-health-disorders/schizophrenia