Mental Disorders

'I have Schizophrenia. I am not Schizophrenia. I am not my mental illness. My illness is a part of me.'
-Jonathan Harnisch, an author

Introduction

Schizophrenia is a long-lasting and severe mental disorder that affects the ways in which a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Individuals with schizophrenia seem to lose their ability to distinguish between reality and imagination. Individuals eventually become unresponsive, self-absorbed, emotionless and expressionless and, withdrawn from social situations.

Societal stigma labels schizophrenics as violent and dangerous, which in most cases is untrue. However, the accompanying attitude is reflected in the way people respond to mental illness, isolating schizophrenics rather than being supportive and eventually further aggravating the condition. [1]

Though the actual cause of psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia is still unclear, researchers over the years have been able to narrow down certain elements that may play a role in the development of schizophrenia:

  • Genetics – that is an individual’s heredity, passed on through the generations
  • Biology – which includes abnormalities in the structure and functioning of the brain accompanied by chemical imbalances
  • Viral infections and immune system disorders
  • Trauma or stress

Signs and Symptoms

Despite many commonalities, the early signs and symptoms of schizophrenia differ from person to person. Symptoms may either develop slowly and gradually over a long period of time, or may occur all of a sudden.  Usually symptoms develop between ages 16 and 30, however, in rare cases children below 16 may also begin to show symptoms.

The symptoms of schizophrenia have broadly been divided into three categories namely: positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.

1. Positive symptoms – are psychotic behaviors that may not generally be seen in ‘healthy’ individuals.  Those showing positive symptoms tend to “lose touch” with certain aspects of reality. These include:

  • Hallucinations (false experiences or perception)
  • Delusions (false beliefs)
  • Disorganized speech
  • Thought disorders - unusual or dysfunctional patterns of thinking
  • Movement disorders - agitated body movements

2. Negative symptoms-are disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. These include:

  • “Flat affect” (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
  • Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities
  • Reduced speaking

3. Cognitive symptoms – For some these tend to be subtle, but for others, they may be more severe, where patients tend to notice changes in their memory or other aspects of their thought process. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of ability to understand information and use it to make decisions
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Problems with “working memory”, that is the ability to use information immediately after learning it 

4. Other symptoms include:

  • Extreme apathy and lack of motivation
  • Performance downfall
  • Social withdrawal
  • Inability to sleep
  • Poor hygiene and self-care
  • Inappropriate or nonsensical speech - moving from one topic to another, making new words that have no meaning or rigidly sticking to one topic

Types of Schizophrenia Disorders

1) Delusional Disorder

The disorder is comprised of delusions for a period of one month without any other psychotic symptoms.

2) Brief Psychotic Disorder

For a period of only one month, there is presence of one or more of the positive symptoms. There is complete recovery from the disorder within one month.

3) Schizophreniform Disorder

A combination of symptoms characterized by any one positive symptom alongside a negative symptom or disorganized or catatonic behavior for a period of one to six months.

4) Schizophrenia

A combination of symptoms characterized by any one positive symptom alongside a negative symptom or disorganized or catatonic behavior for a period of more than six months.

5) Schizoaffective Disorder

During a period of one month of the illness of schizophrenia, there is an overlap with a manic or major depressive episode. [2] [3]


References:

[1] Morrison, J. (2014).  DSM-5 made easy: The Clinician’s guide to Diagnosis. New York: Guilford Press.   

[2] Anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/   

[3]American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.


Anyone who experiences several of these symptoms for more than two weeks should seek immediate help-

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