Understanding Schizophrenia

By Jill Gonzalez

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that has a significant impact on how people think, manage their emotions and interact with others in social situations. People who suffer from this mental illness tend to have a skewed perception of reality, which often results in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions.

Because people with schizophrenia often see and hear things that do not actually exist, they generally find it difficult to function in a normal capacity and find it very difficult to get through routine, ordinary tasks that most people do without a second thought.

Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia

There are five specific kinds of symptoms that are characteristic of schizophrenia. All of these symptoms may vary in severity from person to person, and the particular symptoms that a person experiences may also change over time.

1. Delusions. A delusion is a firm, positive idea that someone has regardless of any evidence that might exist proving that it is not true. Delusions occur in more than 90 percent of schizophrenic patients and usually involve some rather bizarre ideas:

  • Delusions of grandeur is the belief that one is an important or well-known figure, or that one has unique, special powers that nobody else has.
  • A delusion of persecution is the belief that other people are the enemy. A schizophrenic person might believe that someone, or other people, is out to get him or her.
  • A delusion of control is the belief that a person’s actions and/or thoughts are being controlled by “other” forces; in many cases, these other forces are aliens.
  • A delusion of reference is when a schizophrenic person believes that environmental events are meant specifically for them. For instance, a schizophrenic might believe that some type of advertisement, movie or television program is sending a personal message to him or her.

2. Disorganized speech. This is when schizophrenics think about things in fragments, which is a common occurrence. People who have this mental illness generally have difficulty concentrating or maintaining one specific train of thought. This causes them to have rambling, nonsensical speech patterns, or to repeat certain words or phrases over and over.

3. Hallucinations. These are events that occur only in the mind of the schizophrenic, and are very real to them. Hallucinations may be visual or auditory, and they tend to occur when the person is alone.

4. Negative symptoms. This is the absence of normal types of behaviors that most people exhibit. The most common negative symptoms that schizophrenics experience include:

  • Being unaware of their surrounding environment
  • Lack of emotional expression
  • Problems with speech, including the inability to have a lucid conversation
  • A marked lack of interest in pursuing regular activities and a lack of enthusiasm

5. Disorganized behavior. This is characterized by a person’s inability to take care of him or herself, or to be able to perform the duties of his or her job. It may also manifest in a person’s lack of inhibition, or the development of emotional responses that are not appropriate to a given situation.

Warning Signs of Schizophrenia

There are some early warning signs that can help to alert friends and family members to a developing problem. As a general rule, schizophrenia is a condition that develops gradually over time, but in some cases, it does appear quite suddenly and with little or no warning.

The most commonly noticed warning signs of schizophrenia include:

  • A gaze that is flat and without expression
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irrational or strange statements
  • Laughing or crying at inappropriate times
  • Using words out of context, or speaking in strange tones
  • Not responding well to criticism
  • Loss of interest in maintaining personal hygiene
  • Acting suspicious of others or experiencing frequent hostility
  • Insomnia or oversleeping on a regular basis

Types of Schizophrenia

There are three primary types of schizophrenia, and they each have their own unique set of symptoms:

1. Disorganized schizophrenia. This particular type generally appears in people at a younger age than the other two types. It has a gradual onset with the following symptoms:

  • Juvenile or infantile behavior
  • Impairment of communication skills
  • Appearing indifferent emotionally
  • Odd facial expressions or strange mannerisms
  • Reactions that are inappropriate
  • Speech patterns that are illogical or incomprehensible

2. Paranoid schizophrenia. With this type of schizophrenia, people start to have suspicious ideas, thoughts or beliefs that are rather wild. They also tend to become increasingly paranoid and develop difficulties in all of their relationships. Overall, however, the long-term prognosis for these individuals is better than for those who suffer from the other types of schizophrenia.

3. Catatonic schizophrenia. Individuals with this type of schizophrenia have either an increase or a decrease in motor activity. People with a decrease in motor activity may be resistant to any change in their physical position for several hours at a time, even if they are not in a comfortable position. People with an increase in motor activity may scream or shout inappropriately, pace back and forth, or behave in a violent manner.

Causes of Schizophrenia

The causes of schizophrenia may be genetic, environmental, or they may be the result of abnormal brain chemistry or structure.

Schizophrenia does run in families, but approximately 60 percent of schizophrenics do not have close family members with this disorder. For people who have a parent or sibling with schizophrenia, there is a 10 percent chance that they will also develop the disorder at some point in time.

Environmental factors are believed to trigger schizophrenia in people who are genetically predisposed to developing the condition. These may include high stress levels during pregnancy, low oxygen levels during birth, abuse during childhood, exposure to a virus during infancy or the early loss of a parent.

There is also evidence that abnormalities in brain structure, as well as chemical imbalances, may play a role in the development of schizophrenia, but further research is necessary in order to provide conclusive results.