According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability worldwide. Although the prevalence of schizophrenia is relatively low, it carries a significant burden of social, health, and economic concerns. Scientists and researchers continue to discover more about this disorder, but much about schizophrenia remains a mystery. Currently, there is no cure for schizophrenia. That does not mean all is lost, though. Schizophrenia can be treated with medications allowing patients to lead full, happy lives.
What Is Schizophrenia?
The term schizophrenia comes from the Greek ‘schizo’ (splitting) and ‘phren’ (mind). Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder. It affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People are usually diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 30 after the first episode of psychosis. Schizophrenia is rare in young children. Symptoms typically appear earlier in males than females. The course of schizophrenia varies between individuals, but it is usually chronic and persistent. The first psychotic episode can be preceded by gradual alterations in mood, social functioning, and thinking processes.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
People with schizophrenia may display positive or negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are the ones that most people think of when they think of schizophrenia:
- Confusion/thought disorder
- Behavior changes/bizarre behaviors
- Movement disorders
People with schizophrenia may display negative symptoms. Negative symptoms commonly appear during the prodromal phase of schizophrenia and before the first acute psychotic episode. Some negative symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Physical inactivity
- Lack of motivation
- Flat affect
- Monotone speech
- Physical inactivity
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of interest
- Inability to feel pleasure
In some rare instances, a patient’s negative symptoms can become so severe that they may stop moving and talking for a while. This condition is called catatonia and can lead to serious health consequences.
How Schizophrenia Differs From Similar Disorders
Several psychiatric illnesses have similarities to schizophrenia, but they are different disorders and have differing symptoms from schizophrenia. These disorders include:
- Schizophreniform disorder: People who have schizophreniform disorder display the same symptoms as people with schizophrenia. However, their symptoms do not last as long (usually 1-6 months).
- Schizoaffective disorder: People with schizoaffective disorder also have the same symptoms as people with schizophrenia but with an added mood component. They will have episodes of feeling depressed or manic.
- Schizotypal personality disorder: People with this personality disorder may display unusual behaviors and experience learning difficulties. They may have beliefs that are not held by people in their same culture.
- Delusional disorders: People with delusional disorders hold persistent beliefs not based in reality. They are unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Their delusions are not bizarre, and they have no other psychotic symptoms.
- Schizoid personality disorder: People with schizoid personality disorder do not show many emotions and are often aloof.
Management of Schizophrenia
According to the article APA Releases New Practice Guideline on Treatment of Patients with Schizophrenia on the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) website, schizophrenia management should include:
- Antipsychotics with monitoring for effectiveness and side effects. Effective medication should be continued.
- Use of clozapine for treatment-resistant schizophrenia or for patients with suicidal ideations or attempts.
- Long-acting injectables for patients who prefer them.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy for psychosis, psychoeducation, and supported employment services.
- Coordinated specialty care program for patients who are experiencing their first episode of psychosis.
The guideline aims to decrease morbidity, mortality, and psychosocial and health consequences of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and COVID-19
Can schizophrenia put patients at increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms? People with schizophrenia are highly vulnerable, and their immune responses may be more diminished than those of the general population. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recognized that having certain mental health disorders, including schizophrenia, can lead to people experiencing more severe COVID-19 illness.
Self-isolation can also be a psychological burden to patients with schizophrenia. It may also make it difficult for patients to get their needed medications. This is especially true for patients who are receiving long-acting injections.
With the increased risk for severe COVID illness, it is crucial to provide teaching regarding COVID prevention and management and discuss vaccination.
Help and Hope Are Available
Although schizophrenia can cause upheaval in life and be challenging, it is treatable in many patients. Providers and facilities are available to provide a variety of treatments and care that can help patients manage their illnesses and enjoy life. It is important for patients who begin to notice possible symptoms of schizophrenia to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier treatment is sought, the sooner patients can start to feel better.
Living with schizophrenia can be challenging, but treatment and support are available. Sober Life’s partial hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP) can help if your symptoms are stabilized. In addition, it would help if you still had more support and structure than outpatient care can provide. We have high expectations of our patients because we believe in you. Our resiliency-focused programs allow you to seek treatment while remaining in the community. The Sober Life staff understands that each patient is unique, so we work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan to help you reach your individual goals and achieve your vision for your Life. Once discharged, you can still count on support through our alum program. Call Sober Life today at (619) 542-9542 and learn more about the programs offered at our San Diego, CA location.