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World Schizophrenia Day: Causes And Symptoms

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May 24 is observed as World Schizophrenia Day every year. The aim is to fight stigmas related to this condition and make people aware of the mental disorder.

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, more than 21 million people all over the world are suffering from this disabling disease[1], however, it is not as common as other mental disorders. People suffering from this disorder face difficulty in distinguishing fantasy from reality. They also fail to express and manage emotions and make decisions. Known to be more common in men (12 million) than females (9 million), it can lead to debilitating symptoms. People with this condition are around 2-3 more likely to die prematurely as compared to the general population due to the high risk of physical illness[1].

This World Schizophrenia Day, let’s spread some awareness about the condition by shedding light on the causes and symptoms of schizophrenia.

Causes Of Schizophrenia

There is no one single factor that can cause schizophrenia claims research studies. It is believed to be an interaction between genes and environmental factors which also include psychosocial factors and can lead to this mental disorder.

Genes: There are several research studies which support the role of genetic factors in schizophrenia. Studies[2] have revealed that the risk of this mental disorder is around 10% if you have a first-degree relative with the condition and around 3% if you have a second-degree relative. If one of the twins has the condition, the risk for the other is around 50%. Also, if both parents suffer from schizophrenia, then there is a 40% chance that the kid might suffer from the condition.

Environmental factors: The role of environmental and social factors in increasing your risk of schizophrenia is not much talked about. Studies[2] have revealed that environmental stressors such as childhood trauma, social isolation, and minority ethnicity are linked to this mental disorder. Also, social stressors such as discrimination or economic adversity can predispose an individual to paranoid or delusional thinking, increasing the risk of schizophrenia.

Studies[2] have also revealed that obstetric complications during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, low birth weight, asphyxia (suffocation which can lead to the death of the baby), and bleeding during pregnancy are associated with the risk of schizophrenia in the kid at a later stage of life. Also, infections and excess stress levels in pregnant women can make the kid twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

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Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

Unlike how schizophrenia is portrayed in the media, the condition does not involve a split personality. People with this condition usually live in their own world of fantasy. They may fail to show emotions and make firm decisions. The symptoms of schizophrenia usually start by the age of 16 – 30.  Interestingly, men tend to experience their first episode of schizophrenia in their early 20s, whereas women typically experience their first episode in their late 20s or early 30s[2].

The symptoms of schizophrenia are categorized as positive, negative, or cognitive[3]. For a doctor to distinguish between schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders such as depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, it is important to carefully monitor each and every symptom. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of schizophrenia you need to be aware of.

Positive symptoms: These include psychotic behaviours which are not seen in healthy people. The symptoms could be mild or severe and may include:

-Hallucinations which cause patients to see, feel, smell or hear something which is not there.

-Delusions cause people to believe that people are monitoring or threatening them. They believe someone is reading their mind.

-Thought disorders are an unusual way of thinking which may involve difficulty in putting thoughts together or problem in making sense of what others are saying.

-Movement disorders also known as psychomotor problems may lead to agitated body movements, clumsiness, unusual mannerisms or repetitive actions.

Negative symptoms: These symptoms cause a loss of functioning of normal emotional behaviour. Negative symptoms are mostly mistaken for laziness or depression as these cause

-Loss or diminished ability to initiate and sustain any activity/emotion

-Reduced ability to speak with anyone

-Low ability to plan anything

-Flat affect which causes reduced expression of emotions via gestures or tone

-Social withdrawal and apathy

-Reduced feeling of pleasure in everyday life

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Cognitive symptoms: As the name suggests, these symptoms lead to impairment in the cognitive abilities of a person with the condition. Some people with this condition can show mild cognitive symptoms whereas in others it can lead to severe problems with thinking and memory.

The symptoms are:

-Poor ability to execute as they lack the ability to understand a piece of information and use it to plan or make decisions

-Problems with attention or focus as they fail to collate concentrate on any information

-Problems with memory as they do not have the ability to use the information immediately even after learning about it

The condition is diagnosed based on the symptoms and a detailed personal history of the patient as well as his/her family history. Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, it can be treated and managed with the help of medications and behavioural therapy if diagnosed early. Antipsychotic drugs are the primary medications to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia. But for better recovery, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and medical therapy without fail. There are support groups and social networks which can help the patient and the family to deal with the condition.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

Recommended Reads:

6 Ways You Can Help Your Loved Ones Struggling With Mental Illness

Effects of Vitamin Deficiencies on Mental Health

References:

1. Schizophrenia. Facts. The World Health Organization (WHO). 

2. Patel KR, Cherian J, Gohil K, Atkinson D. Schizophrenia: overview and treatment options. P T. 2014 Sep;39(9):638-45.

3. Schizophrenia. Mental Health Information. The National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. 

4. Dewangan RL, Singh P, Mahapatra T, Mahapatra S. Demographic and clinical correlates of social cognition in schizophrenia: Observation from India. Indian J Psychol Med 2018;40:143-55.

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