Schizophrenia Causes & Effects

The signs, symptoms, and effects of schizophrenia can look different for each person impacted. Learning about schizophrenia is one of the first steps toward healing.

Understanding Schizophrenia

Learn about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe, chronically debilitating mental illness. Individuals with schizophrenia display a wide array of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional dysfunction as they struggle to interpret the world around them. These individuals frequently display inappropriate affect, experience difficulty thinking clearly, and fail to appropriately distinguish between what is real and what is not real. Hallucinations, delusions, and episodes of depersonalization and derealization are also common experiences in those suffering from schizophrenia, as are phobias and severe anxiety. As a result of the severity and pervasiveness of symptoms, individuals with schizophrenia struggle to function appropriately across a variety of settings. Social, occupational, and academic functioning tends to be greatly hindered, preventing individuals from advancing in the ways that they would like. Their lives can be tainted by immense strife as they struggle to find their footing outside of their devastating symptoms. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help individuals learn how to appropriately manage symptoms of schizophrenia so that they can thrive to their full potential.

Statistics

Schizophrenia statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), schizophrenia affects between 0.3% and 0.7% of the population. While the disorder is said to affect men and women in equal prevalence, the symptoms that are displayed by each gender are said to vary slightly, with men being more affected by negative symptoms and a longer duration of symptoms and women being more affected by mood symptoms. Tragically, the rates of suicide among those with schizophrenia are high. The APA averages that between 5% and 6% of people with schizophrenia die by suicide, and another 20% make attempts at committing suicide on more than one occasion.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia

There are various factors that can contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to suffering from schizophrenia. Such factors are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Researchers believe that there exists a link between genetics and the onset of schizophrenia. Individuals who have biological family members who suffer from schizophrenia are more likely to suffer from the symptoms of the disorder themselves. Family history of other mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, depression, and autism spectrum disorder, are also said to place individuals at a higher risk for developing schizophrenia.

Environmental: Certain environmental influences can impact an individual’s susceptibility to developing schizophrenia. For example, according to the American Psychiatric Association, the season in which a person is born has been linked to schizophrenia onset, as has the incidence of growing up in an urban environment.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of being diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder or paranoid personality disorder
  • Prenatal malnutrition
  • Suffering from oxygen deficiency prenatally or during the birthing process
  • Being born to a father who is of advanced age
  • Other prenatal or perinatal adversities (e.g. stress, maternal diabetes, infection, etc.)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia

The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia can vary dramatically in both type and severity from person to person. The symptoms themselves are often classified into three groups, as are described in the following:

Positive symptoms: Positive symptoms of schizophrenia include behaviors that are psychotic in nature; behaviors that people who are not suffering from schizophrenia do not exhibit. When people with schizophrenia display positive symptoms, it often means that they have lost touch with reality. Examples of positive symptoms can include:

  • Delusions – maintaining certain beliefs despite having evidence that proves those beliefs to be false
  • Hallucinations – hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, or smelling things that do not truly exist
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized behaviors

Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms of schizophrenia exist as behavioral or emotional capabilities that individuals are no longer able to execute or experience. Examples of negative symptoms can include:

  • Lacking personal hygiene
  • Incapable of articulating thoughts
  • Decreased motivation for engaging in purposeful activities (known as avolition)
  • Declined ability to experience pleasure (known as anhedonia)
  • Weakened ability to speak appropriately (known as alogia)
  • Catatonic behaviors
  • Diminished expression of emotion (e.g. lacking facial expressions, loss of intonation of speech, reduction in eye contact, etc.)

Cognitive symptoms: These types of symptoms have a subtle presentation, making them more difficult for others to identify as being symptomatic of schizophrenia. Examples of cognitive symptoms can include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Prominent memory problems
  • Impaired executive functioning capabilities

Effects

Effects of schizophrenia

When individuals fail to seek care for schizophrenia, they may be subject to any number of detrimental effects. Such effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Academic failure
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Homelessness
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Excessive levels of anxiety
  • Limited social interaction
  • Disturbances within important interpersonal relationships
  • Engagement in self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders

Those who suffer from schizophrenia may also suffer from symptoms of other disorders as well. Examples of possible co-occurring conditions include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Paranoid personality disorder

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