Recovering From Schizophrenic Illness
The way you think and feel has a major impact on your ability to function and connect with others. The same is true for the way you behave. Most people have thoughts, feelings and behaviors that support their general well-being. However, a significant number of people are affected by illnesses that impair their ability to function. One of the most serious and complex of those illnesses is schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia changes your thoughts, feelings and behaviors enough to make you lose some of your connection to reality. If you do not get treatment for its effects, it can severely damage the most important aspects of your life. Today, it is possible to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia. With proper treatment, you can maintain or restore your everyday stability.
What Is Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia belongs to a group of mental illnesses that sit together on a schizophrenia spectrum. Each illness in this group is different in certain ways. However, they all include psychosis. That is the name for a variety of symptoms that degrade your sense of reality.
Schizophrenia is capable of producing severe psychosis. It also produces additional symptoms that impair your mental health. The disorder is chronic. Once it appears, you must continue to cope with its symptoms long-term.
Less than one percent of all Americans are affected by schizophrenia. You can develop the illness at any time in your life. However, most women develop its symptoms near the end of their 20s or the start of their 30s. Most men develop schizophrenia between the ages of 18 and 25. Young children and adults past age 40 are rarely affected.
Types of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia itself is a single illness. However, the schizophrenia spectrum also includes five related disorders. Each of these disorders resembles schizophrenia in one way or another.
Brief Psychotic Disorder
This disorder produces both of the classic symptoms of psychosis. It also produces secondary psychosis symptoms. However, unlike schizophrenia, brief psychotic disorder only lasts for a month or less.
Schizophreniform disorder sits between schizophrenia and brief psychotic disorder on the spectrum. It lasts for longer than a month, but resolves in no more than six months. When it is active, it produces full-blown psychosis, just like schizophrenia and brief psychotic disorder.
This disorder produces all of the symptoms found in schizophrenia. Like schizophrenia, it is also long-lasting. The difference between the two is that schizoaffective disorder also produces symptoms not found in schizophrenia. Specifically, people with this disorder experience at least one bout of mania or depression.
Delusional disorder produces one of the two classic symptoms of psychosis: delusional thinking. But it does not produce the other classic symptom: hallucinations. In addition, people with the disorder do not have any secondary psychosis symptoms.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
This illness is unique because it is both a schizophrenic disorder and a personality disorder. People affected by it undergo several key personality changes. These changes include:
- Altered thought and perception
- Unusual or erratic behavior
- Problems tolerating or forming close relationships
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
There are three categories of schizophrenia symptoms: psychosis, negative symptoms and cognitive symptoms. The features of psychosis are sometimes called positive symptoms. This means that they produce effects not found in the typical healthy person.
Negative symptoms get their name because they take away some your normal functions or abilities. Cognitive symptoms interfere with certain aspects of your ability to think. For this reason, they are sometimes called disorganized symptoms.
Psychosis triggers hallucinations that affect your vision or your hearing. A hallucination may distort your perception of something you actually see or hear. It may also cause you to perceive things that are not there at all.
Delusional thoughts are also common. These are things that you absolutely believe, even when they make no sense and cannot be proven. Often, these delusional beliefs are paranoid and make you feel without reason that someone is trying to harm you. In addition, you may believe that you:
- Possess special gifts or power
- Receive messages that no one else can hear
- Have a special mission or goal that only you can achieve
People with psychosis may also experience something called thought disorder. This symptom can damage your ability to speak in a coherent manner. It can also cause you to think in strange but non-delusional ways.
There is a good chance that you will experience psychosis before any other symptom of schizophrenia. Before psychosis or any other symptom appears, you may also notice slow, progressive changes in:
- Your typical mood
- The way you normally think
- How you interact with other people
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia leave you with a diminished ability to do such things as:
- Feel motivated in daily life
- Experience pleasure from things you normally enjoy
- Add emotional cues to your speech
As a result of these changes, you may feel much more socially withdrawn. Your ability to function may also be significantly reduced.
The cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia disrupt your normal ability to concentrate and pay attention. They also disrupt your memory function. As a result, you may find it difficult to:
- Maintain any focus
- Take in new information
- Use the information you already possess
The effects of schizophrenia sometimes feel fairly constant. However, many people experience episodes of the illness where they feel more affected than usual.
Schizophrenia Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of schizophrenia are complex and intertwined. In fact, researchers have not yet uncovered precisely how the disorder develops. This means that it is impossible to determine exact causes for anyone affected by schizophrenia. Still, certain typical risk factors have been identified.
Risks for the illness are partially genetic. In some cases, it moves through family bloodlines. However, this is not always true. Having a relative with schizophrenia may not elevate your personal risks.
The function and structure of your brain may also be important. Compared to people without schizophrenia, people with the illness tend to have:
- Different-sized brain regions
- Altered connection points between brain regions
- Unusual levels of certain key brain chemicals
Your environment is another potential contributor. For example, you may have higher risks in you are exposed to certain viruses before you are born. The same thing may happen if you do not receive enough nutrients before birth. In addition, growing up in poverty may increase your schizophrenia risks.
A fourth possible cause or risk factor for schizophrenia is substance use. Specific things in this area that may have an influence include:
- Taking hallucinogens as a teen or young adult
- Smoking cannabis products like marijuana
Research suggests that teens and heavy users are the most susceptible to problems.
Schizophrenia is often challenging to diagnose. This is true, in large part, because psychosis has so many potential causes. It is also true because so many symptoms of the illness appear in other conditions on the schizophrenia spectrum.
You might decide to take a “do I have schizophrenia” quiz. However, many people who may be affected deny or overlook potential symptoms. Even if you do take a quiz, it will not be able to provide you with any definitive answers. To get these answers, you must talk to a mental health professional.
It usually takes about six months to tell for sure if you have schizophrenia. During that time, your symptoms will be evaluated. Attention is also paid to how your condition changes over time.
To be diagnosed, you do not need to have problems from all three schizophrenia symptom categories. Instead, you must have at least two symptoms from any of these categories. In addition, your symptoms must be severe enough to affect your ability to function.
Addiction and Schizophrenia
Many people with schizophrenia have serious problems with drugs or alcohol. These problems may begin before or after symptoms of the illness first appear. The combination of schizophrenia and addiction is an example of dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis occurs whenever addiction and mental illness affect you at once.
Dual diagnosis tends to make schizophrenia harder to treat. This is true because it can worsen the effects of psychosis. Dual diagnosis typically has the same damaging effect on the treatment of substance problems.
Schizophrenia Treatment and Therapy Options
Schizophrenia cannot be cured. Instead, treatment focuses on successful management of your symptoms. When your symptoms fall below a certain level, it is possible to lead a functional everyday life.
Antipsychotic medications are a frontline choice for schizophrenia treatment. These medications help reduce your psychosis-related symptoms. A range of options are available. Specific treatments you may receive include:
Clozapine is especially important. This is true because it may help you even when other options do not reduce your symptoms.
Non-medication options are also key to successful schizophrenia care. One such option is psychosocial treatment. Treatment of this type helps you cope with your illness and reintegrate into everyday life. Psychosocial options you may receive include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT
- Supported employment
- Behavioral skills training
Family education and support are also crucial. When your family understands your illness, they have less reason to fear it. They will also have a much better idea of how to help you. In this way, they become important allies.
If your schizophrenia is diagnosed early, you may receive something called coordinated special care, or CSC. This care combines medication and behavioral therapy with family education and support. It also provides support for your education and employment. People at-risk for homelessness or frequent hospitalization may receive assertive community treatment, or ACT. This is approach features service providers from a number of different professional backgrounds. Its goal is to help you avoid homelessness and hospitalization.
Learn More About Schizophrenia Treatment
This is often misunderstood. Many people fear the illness and avoid those who are affected. If you have schizophrenia, you may feel this stigma deeply. As a result, you may be hesitant to admit that the illness is present. In addition, you may avoid seeking help. That is unfortunate, since prompt care for your symptoms is a must.
At Emerald Isle, we provide extensive help for people with schizophrenia. That includes treatment for the illness itself. It also includes treatment for any additional substance problems. The care we provide helps make successful management of your symptoms an achievable goal. For more information on how we can help, contact use today.