Schizophrenia is a psychiatric and severe mental disorder that interferes with perceiving reality, relating to others, and thinking clearly. The American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines Schizophrenia as a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population. When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation.
Individuals living with schizophrenia can have problems distinguishing what’s real from what isn’t and may experience hallucinations, disordered thinking, and feelings of paranoia.
Although medications can have adverse effects like weight gain and increase in blood sugar, changes in nutrition and exercise can help address these side effects. It is necessary for a person with Schizophrenia to continue with their treatment plan, even if the symptoms improve to ensure their recovery.
Symptoms often start in the late teens or early 20s and involve subtle changes in thinking, mood, and behavior — these are the early warning signs. As the condition progresses, episodes of psychosis can occur that are highly distressing. Schizophrenic episodes can cause significant impairment in normal functioning, but a combination of therapy, support, and medication can help stabilize patients and decrease the intensity of these symptoms for a substantial improvement in quality of life.
Schizophrenia symptoms can come and go throughout a person’s lifetime, but many individuals don’t realize that their thoughts, feelings, or perceptions are distorted until they’re diagnosed with the mental illness. And because the early stages of schizophrenia can mimic stress, normal teenage behavior, or other mental health conditions, diagnosis usually occurs after symptoms become more obvious.
Those living with schizophrenia typically experience two types of psychotic symptoms, positive and negative, which refer to changes in thinking or behavior that aren’t usually present or an absence of normal functioning.
Positive symptoms (“adds” a mental experience or phenomenon):
- Hallucinations (auditory, visual, tactile, etc.)
- Delusions, paranoia, and irrational fears
- Trouble concentrating
- Disorganized speech and thought patterns
Negative symptoms (“takes away” from normal thoughts, feelings or behaviors):
- Feeling emotionally withdrawn or isolated
- Low motivation and energy
- Lack of pleasure (anhedonia)
- Flat emotional affect/trouble expressing emotions
- Difficulty planning or participating in activities
These symptoms are then put on a Schizophrenia spectrum and can vary depending on the person experiencing them. For example, some people may be hearing voices or think that song lyrics, TV shows, or billboards contain a special message just for them, while others may feel paranoid or suspicious of their friends and family.
Regardless of how the symptoms of schizophrenia appear, they can cause individuals to lose touch with reality and are highly disruptive to daily life. Certain risk factors, such as substance abuse, stress, stopping medication or a significant life event, can cause symptoms to worsen, making it important to practice good self-care and have a treatment plan in place for dealing with triggers, crises or emergencies, and minimize the effects of the mental illness.