Schizophrenia: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder that impacts the manner in which a person behaves, feels and thinks about the world and their place within it. Over the years, schizophrenia has been mischaracterized in many ways, and due to the mystery behind its inherent cause, many cases of schizophrenia are misdiagnosed as other mental disorders. While schizophrenia is one of the least common mental disorders, it can have severe impacts on a person’s ability to interact socially, function professionally and live a normal life.
Most cases of schizophrenia begin to show symptoms in people between the ages of 15 and 30 but the contributing factors may begin far earlier. Some children are diagnosed with schizophrenia, but this is quite rare, as are late-stage diagnoses in middle-aged people and beyond. Although it has been difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of schizophrenia, it is believed to be the combinative result of various social, environmental and biological factors.
Before any treatment can be sought, it is important to understand the types, symptoms and potential risk factors for this severe mental disorder.
Types Of Schizophrenia
In the past, medical experts broke schizophrenia into a number of subtypes for ease of diagnosis and treatment. This perspective has changed in recent years, and this mental disorder is now seen as being on a spectrum, similar to autism spectrum disorder. Essentially, people are now diagnosed as having “schizophrenia with hallucinations”, rather than being narrowly classified into one of the following subtypes.
However, those previous subtypes are still useful to understand the different forms that schizophrenia can take and they include paranoid, catatonic, childhood and disorganized schizophrenia, as well as schizoaffective disorder.
In this variety, patients experience delusions or false beliefs that people may be conspiring or plotting against them, their family, or those close them. This variety of the disorder is characterized by extremely high-stress levels and an obsessive desire to uncover the plot being hatched against them. Delusions are the main schizophrenic symptom in this subtype.
This subtype involves the opposite extremes of physical behaviour. Symptoms can range from obsessive or repetitive motor movements to complete catatonia, where the patient may completely shut down in terms of speaking, moving or interacting in any way. This type of catatonic symptom is not unique to schizophrenia, which makes it harder to use this symptom for an accurate diagnosis.
In this type of schizophrenia, patients are unable to properly formulate their thoughts and actions, leading to illogical or incoherent speech and behaviour. This can inhibit a person’s ability to behave normally, prepare their own meals, maintain proper hygiene or cleanliness in their home, and complete sensible communication with others.
Although it is quite rare for children to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, it does occur in a few cases – less than .1%. An accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia in children requires treatment, or the risk of severe and long-term schizophrenia is much higher.
Considered one of the most severe forms of this disorder, the schizoaffective disorder often includes the entire range of schizophrenic symptoms, including mood disorder symptoms and psychotic symptoms. This will include a combination of hallucinations, delusions, depression, mania and other mood disorder characteristics.
Symptoms Of Schizophrenia
There are three main categories of schizophrenic symptoms: positive, negative and cognitive.
Negative schizophrenic symptoms are characterized by a loss of normal behaviour or thought patterns, a disinterest in previously enjoyed activities, and a general dulling of the personality. This can manifest in the loss of speech and motor functions, social apathy, lifelessness, lack of attention or social drive, and an inability to complete tasks.
Positive schizophrenic symptoms are defined as additional thoughts or behaviours outside of the “norm” for an individual. This may include hallucinations, delusions, irrational or racing thoughts, paranoia, and manic behaviours. These types of symptoms may reach levels of harm to others or to oneself.
People showing these types of symptoms may experience an inability to concentrate or complete normal tasks, difficulty following instructions, and disorganized thoughts, which can lead to frustrating social and interpersonal interactions.
Causes Of Schizophrenia
In the past, one of the great debates in mental health circles has been centred on the cause of schizophrenia. It is generally understood to be within the bio-psycho-social model, meaning that it is driven by a combination of psychological, genetic and social factors.
When it comes to a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, there are clear signs that some of the effects are based on genetics. If one of your close family members suffers from schizophrenia, you have a 50% better chance of also suffering from this condition. There are more than a dozen different genes that appear to be linked to schizophrenia, some of which may be epigenetically connected – meaning that some may be modulated on or off – based on the presence of other molecules in the body. However, the biological explanation for schizophrenia is only half the story.
Studies have shown that even people with the genes for schizophrenia will not necessarily experience any of the symptoms of this disorder. Environmental and social factors, including stability of home life, physical abuse, substance abuse, social exposure, birth season, infantile infections, prenatal complications and social class can all have an impact on the severity, type and manifestation of this mental disorder.
Treatments For Schizophrenia
There are a number of formal and natural remedies for schizophrenia, including anti-psychotic medicines, individual therapy, family therapy, social skills training, hospitalization, electroconvulsive therapy, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s Wort, vitamin D, Indian gooseberry and dietary changes.
The most popular clinical approach to treating schizophrenia is the use of antipsychotic medication, such as Abilify, Clozaril or Risperidone, among more than a dozen others. These drugs are prescribed after consultation with a psychiatrist trained in mental disorders. These medications may be administered in addition to anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs. The side effects of antipsychotic medications can be intense and are the main reason why people seek alternative remedies for this disorder.
This is a very time-consuming and challenging mental disorder to tackle, but success has been found in family therapy, where every individual in the family has some role in the at-home care, showing the patient that they have the necessary support, without burdening a single individual.
Working with a psychotherapist can often help schizophrenic patients identify their triggers and understand the disorder on a more tangible basis. If they know more about their specific case, they are more able to recognize mood-related symptoms, delusions and hallucinations as parts of the disorder, helping them on the road to recovery.
Social Skills Training
Many people who suffer from negative or cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia struggle to interact with friends, acquaintances, strangers, colleagues and family members. There are some social skills training programs that can ease this process and provide useful techniques for those with severe social symptoms.
In serious cases where harm to oneself or others is possible, either through malnutrition, lack of taking medication, or extreme psychotic symptoms, hospitalization may be required for brief or extended periods of time.
Although this approach has gone out of fashion in many medical circles, electroconvulsive therapy is able to slightly alter brain chemistry and may rapidly eliminate the symptoms of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. This is done by passing a small electrical current through part of the brain, essentially triggering a small seizure.
This ancient herb has a number of anxiolytic, mood-boosting and hormone-balancing properties that can affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain and mitigate some of the worst symptoms of this mental disorder.
St. John’s Wort
One of the most popular natural remedies for depression, fatigue and chronic anxiety is St. John’s Wort. Given how these symptoms are often experienced in schizophrenics, this herbal supplement is trusted by millions of people around the world.
Vitamin D Supplementation
Studies have shown that there are often vitamin D deficiencies in those with acute depression and schizophrenia. This key vitamin is able to control inflammation and boost the immune system, which can reduce overall stress and strain on the body’s systems.
Some recent research has shown a connection between gluten intolerance and schizophrenia, as well as a lack of whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidant-rich foods. By shifting your diet to one that includes lean meats, vegetables, fruit, whole-grain foods or gluten-free foods, you may be able to successfully control the symptoms of this condition.
Legendary in Ayurvedic medicine, Indian gooseberry – also known as Amla – is able to enhance the function of the brain by detoxifying the body and stimulating positive neurotransmitter formation. This can improve mood, eliminate certain social symptoms, and generally help control schizophrenia in its many forms.