In schizophrenia, synapses in the brain that are central to controlling thoughts, actions, and feelings are damaged. As a result, patients can have warped perceptions of the outside world and other people, either acting out or withdrawing from the world entirely.
An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. have this serious mental disorder. It most often first appears in someone’s teen years, but sometimes it appears much later or earlier.
This chronic condition is something a patient with it has to cope with all their lives. Symptoms can be managed through intervention, however, and many patients experience periods during which their symptoms are less intense or in remission.
The Myths Around Schizophrenia
Myths about mental health disorders can cause a lot of unnecessary complications for people with the disorder, creating stigma and preventing people sometimes from getting help. As such, dispelling these notions with facts is important.
Schizophrenics Have Multiple Personalities
One of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia is that people with this disorder have multiple personalities. This is untrue. Schizophrenia is an entirely separate diagnosis from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which people commonly refer to at times as multiple personality disorder.
Schizophrenia Makes You Violent
Another dangerous myth about this disorder is that it makes people violent. While some schizophrenics may act out violently, the vast majority do not. What’s more, when there is violence involved, it typically is due to some substance abuse issue or another mental health disorder.
Schizophrenics have to be committed
Many schizophrenics are able to maintain relatively normal lives. Inpatient care is only used in very extreme cases. Sometimes, when a patient is on a new medication and needs time to adjust, they may need inpatient treatment, as well.
No one knows what causes schizophrenia. According to many experts, genetics may be involved. It is also believed that being exposed to environmental triggers in utero can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition. Additional risk factors include:
- Chronic inflammation
- Autoimmune disorders
- Having a father who is older than average
- Having a malnourished mother when in utero
- Psychotropic drug use in adolescence
Schizophrenia & Genes
Research has shown that having several genes can raise a person’s chances of developing schizophrenia. What’s more, if your parent or their parent had it, your risk is higher. A genetic trigger, however, is not a guarantee. For example, there are cases in which one identical twin developed the condition while the other did not.
Anyone who believes they may be at risk for schizophrenia, should reach out to a mental health professional. That MHP can run the neuropysch testing needed to confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia and establish a treatment plan.
The symptoms of schizophrenia can change from one patient to the next, but the following are what usually appears in this disorder:
- Disorganized speech and thinking
- Detaching from loved ones
- Depressed mood
- Irritability or paranoia
- Poor hygiene
- Unusual, jerky movements
- A flat affect
- An inability to complete tasks
- Apathy towards things once enjoyed
- Poor performance at school or work
- Poor memory
Since some of these symptoms are associated with other mental disorders, too, an MHP will run a differential diagnosis during the diagnostic process. This rules out other causes.
How to Diagnose Schizophrenia
Diagnosing schizophrenia is a complex process that often involves a team of specialists. Since receiving a schizophrenia diagnosis is quite serious, mental health professionals endeavor to be as thorough as possible in this process.
Diagnosis often begins with a physical examination. This is so that doctors can rule out some other cause of the symptoms. Additional physical testing may include an MRI or CT scan to observe brain activity.
Lastly, the patient will undergo psychiatric testing. This will involve taking a psychiatric medical history and talking through various symptoms. Caregivers, parents, and even social workers may be present during these sessions.
Test results from all testing are then referenced against the DSM-5 to rule out or confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
As a serious chronic condition, schizophrenia requires treatment for the remainder of a person’s life. Not adhering to recommended medication or protocols can endanger a patient. Just because symptoms are in remission, for example, does not mean a patient should cease treatment.
On the rare occasion when a patient with this disorder becomes dangerous, treatment in a residential treatment center may be necessary. Patients who are not in an inpatient facility still need to stick to a regular schedule of treatment and attend all appointments. Medication management is important with any disorder, but especially relevant with schizophrenia. Those with this disorder should follow all prescriptions and adhere to safety protocols set by their psychiatrist.
Therapy can also help schizophrenic patients develop better coping mechanisms as well as deal with the emotional pressures of receiving this diagnosis. Families, too, may want to participate in family therapy sessions so that they can build their own coping skills when supporting the patient.