Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterised by the breakdown of the distinction between fantasy and reality. Often wrongly confused with Split Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia leads to people having a skewed sense of reality, and experiencing a wide variety of symptoms, from mood swings to hallucinations.
The exact causes of Schizophrenia have yet to be determined, but leading theories suggest that it is brought on by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. To better understand Schizophrenia, it is a good idea to understand who is most at risk.
Who Does Schizophrenia Affect?
The figure that about 1% of the population suffers from Schizophrenia remains more or less static across the globe, supporting theories that genetics are a major factor. Children are rarely affected, with most diagnoses occurring in patients within the 16 to 30 range. Schizophrenia affects both men and women equally, and rarely develops after age 45, although it is possible.
Compared to the general population, people who have a parent or sibling with Schizophrenia are ten times more likely to be affected themselves. Having any history of Schizophrenia in the family is the biggest risk factor, although illness or substance abuse during pregnancy can also play a role, as can being born to older parents. It has been suggested that taking illicit substances such as LSD does not directly cause Schizophrenia, but may cause it to develop in people who are already at-risk.
There are a long list of indicators that someone may be suffering from Schizophrenia. Unfortunately, people who have Schizophrenia are usually incapable of seeing it for themselves, and so it falls on friends and family to spot the signs. Some of the most common signs of Schizophrenia include:
- Movement: Schizophrenia can affect people in different ways, so while some people may exhibit more energetic behaviour than usual, others may become more sluggish. Some people may switch quickly between the two, but any drastic changes in behaviour and energy could be a sign of Schizophrenia.
- Apathy: Lack of interest in social activities or everyday decisions can also be a sign, and can lead to further side effects like loss of appetite and isolation. Apathy can range from indifference to food, to losing interest in a hobby, and can be a major sign that someone may need help. Similarly, a poor attention span is another indication of Schizophrenia.
- Anxiety: This is a major indication that a person may be suffering from Schizophrenia. People with Schizophrenia are quite often anxious of a number of things, as they develop elaborate stories in their mind and fail to draw the distinction between that and reality. This can range from worrying about being sick to fearing that people are out to get them. Mood swings and irritability are also common among people with Schizophrenia.
- Delusions: People with Schizophrenia will suffer from delusions in almost all cases. Specifically, delusions are when a person holds a belief despite clear evidence to the contrary. This can manifest in any way, often occurring in ways that victimise the sufferer e.g. believing another person has done something to spite them, believing that a dead person or an object is alive, or believing they are someone famous.
- Hallucinations: Probably the most famous symptom of Schizophrenia, delusions do occur to some degree in many Schizophrenic people. The most common hallucination for patients is hearing voices, with as many as 70% experiencing this symptom. Visual hallucinations are possible, but far less common, and it is also possible for Schizophrenics to smell, taste, or feel things that don’t exist.
Unfortunately, Schizophrenia is a disorder that varies widely on a case-to-case basis, so treatment will depend entirely on the individual, although most will receive a mixture of therapy and prescription medication. As mentioned above, Schizophrenics will not identify that they are suffering from the disorder, so the onus lies on close friends and family to help them get the help they need.