Understanding Schizophrenia: What Are the Symptoms and How Is It Treated?

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that influences how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Understanding schizophrenia, its symptoms, and treatment is an important first step after the initial diagnosis.

Understanding Schizophrenia Symptoms

Symptoms of schizophrenia can be organized into positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and cognitive symptoms.

Positive Symptoms
Positive symptoms are psychotic behaviors not generally present, causing challenges with perception of reality.

Hallucinations – These occur in any of the five senses. Most often sufferers hear voices – internal or external – and even talk back to them. The sufferer may also see people or objects that are not present, smell odors that nobody else smells, or feel and touch things that are not there. Hallucinations are very real to the person experiencing them and this can cause them to be very frightened and unpredictable.

Delusions – Bizarre yet firm beliefs, despite clear evidence that they are not true. The sufferer may think that radio stations broadcast their thoughts aloud or that they have special powers. They may also believe that others are plotting against them and want to harm them or that people are able to control their behavior.

Fragmented thinking – Trouble with organizing thoughts and making logical connections usually causes disorganized speech. This may exhibit itself in the form of loose associations (rapidly shifting from one topic to another without connection), clang associations (using rhyming words), neologisms (making up meaningless words), or perseveration (repeating of words and statements).

Disorganized behavior – Repeating certain body movements over and over or not moving at all. It also includes a lack of restraint and impulse control.

Negative Symptoms
Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. These are often harder to recognize and may be mistaken for symptoms of depression or other conditions. 

Lack of interest and enthusiasm – Decreased feelings of pleasure. Having no motivation, neglecting self-care/personal hygiene, and having difficulty beginning and continuing activities.

Lack of emotional expression –Exhibiting an expressionless face, blank stare, flat tone of voice, or lack of eye contact.

Lack of awareness – Withdrawing socially and showing no interest in things around them.

Speech abnormalities – Exhibiting difficulties speaking, as demonstrated by an inability to carry on a conversation, a monotone voice, or disconnected replies to questions.

Cognitive Symptoms
Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia can often only be detected with special tests. They include the sufferer’s trouble with understanding information used to make decisions, and focusing or paying attention. Due to this impairment, many people with schizophrenia have challenges keeping a job or caring for themselves.

Understanding Schizophrenia Treatments

While no cure exists for schizophrenia, the earlier treatment begins, the better the long-term outlook will be. Comprehensive treatment includes antipsychotic medication and psychosocial treatments.

Antipsychotic Medication
Medication can reduce the biochemical imbalances that cause the disorder, thereby decreasing the probability of a relapse. Some sufferers will experience improvement of symptoms within a few weeks. Others may still have symptoms, but not as intense as before.

It’s highly important, therefore, that the doctor and the individual with schizophrenia work together to find the right medication, doses, and treatment plan. The same medication doesn’t work for everyone. Every case is unique and it may take a while before finding the right regimen with the least bothersome side effects.

Psychosocial Treatments
Once an affected person’s brain chemistry has stabilized, they will need help dealing with everyday challenges. Furthermore, this treatment-type includes learning or re-learning various coping skills.

Therapy/counseling – Different forms of talk therapy can help both the sufferer and their family members understand schizophrenia and how to cope with the condition. For example, CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) teaches people how to test the reality of their thoughts and perceptions. Behavioral therapy focuses on current behaviors and Interpersonal therapy focuses on current relationships.

Rehabilitation – This part of the treatment focuses on social and employment training. It can include job services, skill training for work, or money management counseling. In addition, they learn skills for stress management and maintaining personal relationships.

How likely is it that a person with Schizophrenia will lead a normal, meaningful life?

Each person is going to be different in terms of the severity and duration of positive and negative symptoms. Some will have other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD etc…that they have to deal with in addition to schizophrenia.

Many people lead satisfying lives as long as they are able to control their stress levels, triggers, medication and living environment.  Over time you and your family will get to know your specific indicators for relapse. The good news is, many people survive schizophrenia and go on to find love, get married, have families, hold jobs and live happy lives.