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Schizophrenia is a complex and severe mental illness characterized by a range of symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, disorganized behavior, and impaired cognitive ability, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The symptoms of schizophrenia often start in early adulthood and require long-term treatment. If you think you or someone you know has schizophrenia, it’s essential to seek professional help to receive an accurate diagnosis and pursue treatment options as early as possible. With early intervention and proper treatment, people with schizophrenia can manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.
How common is schizophrenia?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, schizophrenia affects approximately 1% of the adult population in the United States.
What causes schizophrenia?
Research studies have suggested that environmental factors, genetics, brain structure, and substance abuse contribute to schizophrenia. Stress may play a role in the disorder’s onset and course. Because there are multiple possible causes, clinical researchers cannot confirm the exact causes of this diagnosis.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
When the mental disorder is active, it is characterized by psychotic episodes. During psychotic episodes, patients cannot distinguish between real and unreal experiences.
Like any mental illness, the duration and frequency of a person’s symptoms can vary. However, in patients with schizophrenia, severe psychotic symptoms typically decrease over the patient’s lifetime. The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into separate categories:
- Positive symptoms: Hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and exaggerated or distorted perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors.
- Negative symptoms: Becoming less active, reduced speech, becoming less interested in usual activities, loss of emotional expression, and social withdrawal.
- Disorganized symptoms: Disorganized or unusual behavior, confused thinking, incoherent speech, and abnormal movements or facial expressions.
- Impaired cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, finding it hard to focus on or understand things, and trouble remembering things.
Research suggests that failing to take medications as prescribed, using alcohol or illicit drugs, and experiencing adverse events can exacerbate psychosis and psychotic symptoms.
How is schizophrenia diagnosed?
Diagnosis requires a psychiatric evaluation by a mental health professional. Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic criteria of schizophrenia require a person to have two or more of the following symptoms that persistently contribute to reduced functioning:
- Disorganized speech
- Disorganized or catatonic behavior
- Negative symptoms
The difficulty of diagnosing this mental disorder is further complicated by the fact that many people who are diagnosed do not believe they have it. Lack of awareness is common among people diagnosed with schizophrenia and often hinders patients from seeking treatment.
If you’re unsure whether you have schizophrenia, the online screening test by Mental Health America can help you determine whether you’re experiencing mental health symptoms. It’s important to remember that an online schizophrenia test is not a diagnostic tool. Instead, it’s recommended that you share your total score with your healthcare provider.
Treatment Options for Schizophrenia
Recovery from schizophrenia has historically been considered rare. However, new evidence suggests that schizophrenia is a treatable mental health condition, and recovery is possible. Some individuals experience the first episode of psychosis, but do not experience recurring symptoms. For others, symptoms improve naturally with age. Clinical researchers are also optimistic, as new treatments appear to promote better functioning and outcomes.
Treatment programs are the most effective when they include a combination of approaches, such as medication, therapy, and support groups. Treatment often occurs in a multidisciplinary team, so each treatment component can be delivered by a qualified health professional. Common elements of a treatment plan include:
- Therapy: Psychotherapy can help patients with schizophrenia live highly productive and fulfilling lives. Therapy can help people learn social skills, manage stress, and identify the warning signs of relapse. Because schizophrenia typically begins in early adulthood, early treatment can help patients develop life-management skills, complete educational training, and hold a job.
- Support groups: Support groups and self-help groups can help young adults and late teens find emotional support, learn social skills, and connect to other young people with similar experiences. The Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America partners with individuals with schizophrenia to run support groups called the Schizophrenia Alliance.
- Medication: Antipsychotic medication can reduce the positive symptoms of schizophrenia. Typically, a healthcare provider will prescribe second-generation antipsychotics (atypical antipsychotics). These medications help patients manage the symptoms of psychosis with minimal side effects. In rare cases, serious side effects have occurred in patients taking first-generation antipsychotics, such as tardive dyskinesia. As a result, many patients are hesitant to take them.
- Psychosocial treatment: Psychosocial treatments enable individuals with schizophrenia to eliminate barriers caused by their mental illness and learn to live fulfilling lives. If a person participates in psychosocial treatment, they are more likely to continue taking their antipsychotic medication and are less likely to relapse.
- Hotlines: If you’re having suicidal thoughts or need immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.
Finding a Therapist for Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is treatable and recovery is possible. For the most effective treatment, it’s essential to work with a qualified health professional experienced in the treatment of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and related psychotic disorders. Some standard treatment approaches to schizophrenia include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): CBT, a kind of talk therapy, can help patients with schizophrenia change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and learn skills to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. CBT can also help with mental health issues related to schizophrenia. This includes anxiety disorders, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, depression, and substance use disorder.
- Family or couples therapy: Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness, and living with a loved one with schizophrenia can be stressful. Family or couples therapy provides opportunities for family members to understand and learn to support their loved one with schizophrenia.
- Group therapy: In a clinical trial, clinical researchers found that group therapy provided socializing experiences for patients and tended to reduce anxiety, improve reality testing, and boost self-esteem. Research studies have suggested that group-treated patients also tend to take antipsychotic drugs more consistently.
If you’re seeking professional help for schizophrenia, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a qualified mental health professional you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the qualified mental health professionals on the WithTherapy platform will help you develop healthy coping strategies, manage your symptoms, and take control of your mental health.