Debunking 3 Myths About Schizophrenia Symptoms
Schizophrenia symptoms are severe mental health conditions that interfere with one’s ability to manage emotions, make decisions, think clearly, and relate to others. Schizophrenia is a long-term, complex condition that affects many areas of one’s life. Although precise statistics on the prevalence of schizophrenia in the population are difficult to measure, researchers believe it is between .25% and .64% of adults in the United States.
The onset of schizophrenia symptoms generally begins in one’s late teens and early 20s for men, and late 20’s to early 30s for women. Although schizophrenia can occur at any age, it is uncommon for it to be diagnosed in someone younger than age 12 or over the age of 40. With treatment at a mental health treatment program like The Meadowglade, it is possible to manage schizophrenia symptoms effectively.
What are the Common Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
When someone has schizophrenia, they experience a range of symptoms, some more complex and debilitating than others. The symptoms of schizophrenia are characterized by problems with behavior, emotions, and thinking. Although they may vary from person to person, signs and symptoms usually involve delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thoughts and speech, and an impaired ability to function.
Delusions are false beliefs that do not have a basis in reality. For example, someone experiencing delusions may believe they are famous or possess exceptional abilities. They may believe that comments or gestures of strangers are directed at them. They may think they have the power to predict catastrophe or that another person is in love with them. Delusions are very common in people with schizophrenia and occur in most cases.
Hallucinations typically involve hearing or seeing things that do not exist. However, for someone with schizophrenia, hallucinations are far more powerful and have the same emotional and physical impact as a “normal” experience. Hallucinations can occur in all of the senses (smell, auditory, taste, touch, or visual); however, hearing voices is the most common hallucination for schizophrenia patients.
Disorganized thoughts and speech
Disorganized thinking evolves out of disorganized speech. For someone with schizophrenia, effective communication can be impaired, and the answers to asked questions may be partially or entirely unrelated to what was asked. In some (rare) cases, speech patterns may also involve creating meaningless words that others cannot understand. This is also referred to as “word salad.”
Abnormal and extremely disorganized motor behaviors
This symptom of schizophrenia can present in different ways. In some instances, it may occur as childlike or silly behaviors. In some other cases, it may present as unpredictable agitation and aggression. There is no goal or task-driven reason behind the behaviors, so it is difficult for the person to accomplish anything meaningful. These behaviors can also include useless and excessive movements, resistance to instructions, inappropriate and bizarre posture, and a complete lack of response to suggestions or requests from others.
Negative symptoms refer to a notably reduced or complete lack of ability to function normally. For example, negative symptoms in someone with schizophrenia may include neglecting personal hygiene, appearing emotionless (doesn’t make eye contact or change facial expressions), and speaking in a monotone voice. Negative symptoms may also involve social isolation, loss of interest in everyday activities, or the inability to experience pleasure.
Schizophrenia symptoms can vary in severity and type. Some symptoms may worsen, and others may resolve (go into remission) for a period.
Schizophrenia in teens
It is important to note that there are differences in how schizophrenia presents in teens. Although the symptoms are similar, recognizing the condition in teens can be more challenging. This is likely because many of the early signs and symptoms of schizophrenia mimic behaviors that are part of “normal” teen development. For example:
- Reduced motivation
- Poor performance in school (compared to previous years)
- Difficulties with sleep
- Voluntary isolation
- Withdrawing from family and social groups
The use of recreational drugs that are common among teens, such as marijuana and methamphetamines, can also mimic symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. When compared to adults, however, teens are less likely to experience delusions but more likely to have visual hallucinations.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
Research suggests there are several potential causes of schizophrenia.
- Environment- environmental factors such as exposure to malnutrition or viruses before birth (especially during the first or second trimester of pregnancy) may increase one’s risk of developing schizophrenia. Recent studies suggest there is also a relationship between autoimmune disorders and the development of certain psychotic symptoms.
- Substance use and abuse-Data from some studies into addiction and schizophrenia show that using mind-altering substances as a teen or young adult can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. Also, a growing body of evidence suggests that smoking marijuana may increase the risk of psychotic incidents in people with schizophrenia. It also increases the risk of ongoing and recurring psychotic experiences. Data shows that the younger one is when they begin using, and the more frequently they use, the greater their risk of symptom development.
- Genetics- there is no single genetic variation that causes schizophrenia. Researchers suggest a complex combination of genetics and environmental factors increases one’s risk of developing the condition. However, heredity influence does also play a significant role. Recent studies show your likelihood of developing schizophrenia is more than six times more significant if a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) has the disorder.
- Brain chemistry problems with brain chemicals, including the neurotransmitter dopamine, may contribute to schizophrenia development.
How is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?
Diagnosing schizophrenia can be challenging. As noted above, certain conditions may cause someone to have schizophrenia-like symptoms. Currently, there is no physical or laboratory test a provider can use to diagnose schizophrenia. A mental health provider will assess your symptoms and how they have evolved and changed over the previous six months. It is essential to rule out other potential medical and mental health conditions that may present similarly to schizophrenia.
For a provider to diagnose schizophrenia, you must have two or more of the following symptoms. More detail on each of the symptoms listed below is provided in the above paragraphs.
- Disorganized speech
- Negative symptoms
- Disorganized behavior
For a provider to diagnose schizophrenia, your symptoms must occur persistently and impact your daily functioning.
Schizophrenia Myths and Misconceptions
Schizophrenia is perhaps one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. Despite years of research and work to reduce stigma, inaccurate media portrayals and ongoing misrepresentations of what it is like to live with schizophrenia leave those with the condition feeling stigmatized. It also causes widespread confusion and fear among those who do not have schizophrenia but may not understand what the illness looks like. As a result, several pervasive (and sometimes dangerous) myths exist about schizophrenia.
Myth #1- People with schizophrenia are dangerous
Let us begin by first debunking an unfortunate and dangerous myth surrounding schizophrenia, the myth that someone with the illness is dangerous to others. Although some statistics show a slightly higher rate of aggression in people with schizophrenia, the root cause may not be the illness. Research suggests a higher risk of aggressive behavior may be related to using substances such as drugs and alcohol to cope with symptoms of their condition.
Rather than people with schizophrenia being perpetrators of violence, studies show they are often the victims of violent crimes. Also, people with schizophrenia often pose a greater physical danger to themselves rather than to others. One large-scale study conducted over 20 years found the suicide rate among people with a schizophrenia diagnosis was approximately 20 times higher than that of the general population.
Myth #2-Schizophrenia means having multiple personalities
Many people confuse (or combine) schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by having two or more distinct personality states. Someone with schizophrenia does not experience split personalities; instead, they “split from reality.” Someone with schizophrenia may experience delusions and hallucinations. During these episodes, they experience things that are not there or believe things occur that aren’t factually possible or true.
On the other hand, DID is a dissociative disorder that often occurs as a response to a traumatic event. DID is characterized by alternating between different identities. Someone with DID may feel like one or more identities (voices) are trying to “take control” in their head. Often, each identity will have unique characteristics, names, behaviors, and voices.
Myth #3-Schizophrenia is an untreatable illness
Schizophrenia is entirely treatable and manageable. The ideal treatment for schizophrenia will vary based on one’s specific challenges, needs, symptoms, and symptom severity. The most effective treatment programs are a combination of therapy and medication.
Evidence-based therapy programs at The Meadowglade for schizophrenia involve psychotherapy to reduce symptom severity and to help someone with schizophrenia symptoms manage stress, actively participate in daily activities, accomplish goals and improve one’s overall quality of life. Mental health medications help reduce the severity of delusions and hallucinations.
Treatment for Schizophrenia at The Meadowglade
Without treatment, schizophrenia symptoms are unlikely to improve. At The Meadowglade, our team of caring and compassionate treatment professionals will work with you or your loved one to develop a plan of care that considers your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The most effective treatment plans for schizophrenia include evidence-based therapy models designed to help you learn more about your condition and how to effectively manage your symptoms. Additionally, some mental health medications may help reduce the intensity of some schizophrenia symptoms during the early days of therapy.
If you are ready to move forward from the challenges of living with unmanaged schizophrenia symptoms, contact us to learn how treatment at The Meadowglade can help. Our admissions team is available to answer your questions about mental health treatment in California and how we can help you begin your journey toward learning how to overcome your symptoms. Contact us today to learn more.