Although the precise cause of schizophrenia isn’t known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that is characterized by experiences that remove one from reality regarding both thought content and perceptions. Schizophrenia affects 1 in every 100 people in Australia, with the condition typically manifesting in one’s late teens or early twenties. Those affected display any of the following symptoms:
- Hallucinations: Hearing voices, seeing things that are not there, feeling tactile physical sensations, or having tastes or smells that are not real.
- Delusions: Beliefs that are not grounded in reality, such as thinking you are a famous person or historical figure. There could also be the belief in an elaborate conspiracy with secret messages coming from the TV, or the idea that you can read people’s minds.
- Odd Behaviors: Strange actions like snapping fingers or rocking back and forth. This also includes catatonia, lack of movement.
- Disorganised thoughts and speech: Speaking incoherently, engaging in “word salad,” where words are illogically associated with each other.
- Other symptoms: Different behaviours and conditions such as isolating oneself, poor hygiene, a feeling of emotional flatness, and difficulties with memory and concentration. In cases where affective conditions are also present, such as depression or mania, the diagnosis is changed from “schizophrenia” to “schizoaffective disorder.”
A person exhibiting any of the above symptoms should see a psychiatrist for medications, given that this is the most effective treatment for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications typically are prescribed, and it is important for the provider to closely monitor the effects they have on patients. At times, a medication may not be effective in addressing symptoms, and/or it may cause debilitating side effects that outweigh the gains which the medication provides. Providers should also listen respectfully to the patient’s reporting on how they like the medication as a medication regimen is determined. This is valuable information that can help clinicians make informed decisions in a client’s treatment plan.
The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but there are several factors that influence its onset. Regarding genetics, there is not a singular gene causing the condition, but rather mutations can make one more prone. Schizophrenia also runs in families. If you have a brother, sister or one parent who has schizophrenia, you have a 10% increased chance of developing the condition. If both of your parents have it, you have a 40% of developing it yourself.
External factors can also trigger schizophrenia. This includes taking hallucinogen drugs such as methamphetamines and LSD, and even marijuana. Schizophrenia can also be caused by stress and trauma in childhood. Drug use and trauma both can cause changes in the brain that make one more prone to developing the condition. There are organic differences in the brain with people who have schizophrenia. Studies have found that the medial temporal lobes were smaller, thereby affecting memory. Ventricles in the brain (spaces) were larger, and there were fewer connections between brain cells.
People with mental illness are estimated to live 25 years lesser than the average populace, given that this population is prone to diminish physical health due to lifestyle choices and side effects of medications. To mitigate this, providers can encourage a person to view recovery from schizophrenia as a holistic concept. Aside from merely trying to eradicate the symptoms of schizophrenia, a person should adopt healthy habits such as avoiding unhealthy foods, engaging in hobbies, having an active social life and keeping up good hygiene. These can help a person enjoy better physical health, which contributes to overall wellness.
When engaging with the patient, it is important to look past the symptoms and see the person as a whole. Be non-judgmental and open, looking past negative impressions that may occur to you and offer care and compassion. Schizophrenia can be traumatic for some people, and so it is important for providers to be “trauma-informed.” This is the idea that symptoms are the result of people reacting to stressors, instead of being intrinsically flawed as a person. If the client appears distressed, it is best to ask “What is happening?” instead of “What’s wrong?”
A diagnosis of schizophrenia does not automatically determine that a person will be disabled for the rest of their life. While the condition often cannot be completely cured, creating an effective treatment plan can successfully rehabilitate a person to a normal level of functioning, where a person lives a fruitful and satisfying life. Positive outcomes are possible, and providers should have the highest of hopes for their clients with schizophrenia.