While many Americans have heard of the severe brain disorder known as schizophrenia, not too many are aware of how prevalent it is in the US. In 2020, the documented number of people afflicted with schizophrenia was 1.2% of the population of the US, which is around 2.8 million people aged 18 and older. Of this number, an estimated 40% remain untreated at any given time, which could open up the condition to possible further complications, such as schizophrenia and substance abuse.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is characterized by repeated episodes of psychosis and may include symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, social withdrawal, and impaired emotional expression. In simpler terms, schizophrenia is a serious form of mental illness that causes people to perceive and interpret reality in a very different way from others. Many might even call this radically different perception and interpretation of reality to be abnormal.
This condition is the type that requires lifelong treatment, as it does not go away, nor can it be cured. To this day, there is no cure for this condition, and the only thing that makes it manageable to a certain extent is dual diagnosis treatment. Some people might take antipsychotic medications to reduce the incidents of psychosis, but that is as far as condition management goes.
The definition of this condition might be simple enough, as it is defined as perceiving and interpreting reality abnormally, but in reality, this condition is one of the most complex mental health issues that specialists are looking into. It is not easily filed away into a condition that causes a person to become lethargic, unmotivated, and constantly melancholic, nor is it a condition that makes a person necessarily violent.
Schizophrenia is an immensely difficult condition to diagnose and treat because it could be quite unpredictable and confusing to all but the most highly trained mental health specialists. It is often misdiagnosed as a different mental issue, or even dismissed as the effects of a person who has a substance abuse disorder, as it creates a reality that only the person afflicted with it could see, hear, and feel.
Some of the symptoms include:
This is a mental state where people partially or completely lose touch with reality. This is believed to be caused by a disruption in the way that the brain processes information and stimuli. During a psychotic episode, a person’s perceptions become completely unreliable as they could be perceiving a specific thing or all things around them in a very different way.
This different perception will then influence how they react to it. A person who is undergoing a psychotic episode will react in the most normal way given the circumstances of their perceptions. A person could be in an office, school, or a park, and their senses could be telling them they are underwater, so they will react as if they truly are.
Simply put, someone who is experiencing delusions will have difficulty separating what is real from what is imagined. A person who is said to be delusional will completely believe what they think to be real, regardless of the circumstances that surround it. An example is when people keep on saying and believing that someone is after them or watching them.
People who suffer from this condition take issues such as paranoia to a completely different level. Some people could become dangerous because of their delusions, such as those who are not above attacking others who they believe are watching or stalking them. In most cases, no amount of convincing will work on the delusional person, and they will continue to hold on to their beliefs even in the face of irrefutable proof. In many cases, trying to convince a person suffering from delusions that their fears and suspicions are unjustified will only serve to make them even more aggressive and suspicious.
Some people take substances known as hallucinogens to experience an alternative form of reality, although they tend to regain their normal sense of reality once the effects of the substance wear off. People who suffer from hallucinations, however, suffer from a mental disorder that affects and alters their perceptions.
The most common manifestations of hallucinations often involve the sense of hearing, as many have often complained of hearing voices or things that only they could perceive. The next most common form of hallucination involves the sense of sight, as people who suffer from hallucinations could see things that are not there, or look at one thing or even someone but see something completely different. In most cases, hallucinations are dangerous to the person who experience them as they could be in a potentially dangerous situation but they will not even begin to perceive the danger because they are seeing, hearing, or smelling something else.
Much like when a person is experiencing a delusional episode, a person experiencing a particular form of hallucination could become violent or aggressive, as they might be perceiving a threat that isn’t there.
This symptom of schizophrenia could seriously impede a person’s ability to communicate and carry out even the simplest of things because their thoughts and speech patterns become jumbled or incoherent. This is particularly evident in people who seem to suddenly change behavior for no apparent reason. Many often mistake this condition as someone who is suffering from a personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or mood swings, as the person typically shifts from one type of emotion or behavior to something else with no transition.
People who suffer from disorganized thinking could be talking about or doing something and suddenly shift to something else. They could be docile or friendly one moment and then suddenly become severely agitated or even aggressive with no warning or provocation. People who suffer from disorganized thinking don’t need a trigger or cue to suddenly shift their behavior. Some people even manifest a state of catatonia, where a person suddenly appears to be in a daze, completely unresponsive to outside stimuli, and will show little to no movement for extended periods.
The greatest potential threat to a person suffering from schizophrenia is the suicidal tendency that potentially arises due to the nature of the condition. People who suffer from schizophrenia may still understand and relate with other people on a certain level, and interacting with the people could serve to highlight just how different their perceptions could be, as it becomes more apparent to the person with schizophrenia that they are the only ones who see, hear, feel, and believe the things that they do.
This realization is often more than enough to impress upon them just how damaged they are, and this could push them into deciding they might be better off if they end up dead. In cases where the person suffers from severe paranoia, they could experience fear that is so intense that they would rather take their own lives than fall victim to some perceived threat that they dread.
Mental health experts from our outpatient rehab and php treatment facility admit that due to the complexity of schizophrenia, there are still many things about it that remain unknown, such as specific causes and potential cures. What has been established, however, is that the condition does have specific risk factors associated with it that could indicate if a person is at high risk of developing it.
These risk factors include:
Studies have shown that the chances of genetically inheriting schizophrenia are between 70% and 80%, with the greatest risk factor for developing the condition is having a first-degree relative who already suffers from it. Research into the genetic link reveals that if one parent is affected the probability of inheriting schizophrenia is around 13% and if both are affected the risk is almost at 50% certainty.
There is, however, a great paradox involved in the theory that genetics is a huge factor in increased chances of developing schizophrenia, given that people with schizophrenia have lower fertility rates. Still, having low fertility rates do not necessarily mean that conception is impossible, and given that many genes could play a part in a person developing the condition, further study is being devoted to this theory.
There are numerous environmental factors that experts are looking at that they believe could significantly contribute to the chances of a person developing schizophrenia even from the prenatal phases. These include oxygen deprivation, specific infection, prenatal maternal stress, and malnutrition in the mother during prenatal development. This theory derives from the known fact that maternal stress and infection have been demonstrated to alter fetal neurodevelopment.
Viral infections of the brain during childhood are also being looked at as a driver of developing schizophrenia later on during adulthood. Malnutrition in the form of vitamin D deficiency in the mother during pregnancy is also being scrutinized as this could potentially affect the development of the brain of the fetus.
External factors are also being eyed in the environmental risks of schizophrenia, including adverse childhood experiences (ACE), which is more commonly known as childhood trauma. These intense experiences include being bullied or abused as a child, accidents, and the death of a parent. These adverse childhood experiences could cause toxic stress and increase the risk of psychosis.
Data taken from mental health treatment in Orange County indicate that at least half of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia also use recreational drugs, including cannabis, tobacco, and alcohol in excessive amounts. Certain substances, including stimulants like amphetamine and cocaine, are already known to produce psychosis in the user with continuous use. This theory, however, is highly debatable as substances are known to produce psychosis, while many people diagnosed with schizophrenia are also known to use substances to quell many of its symptoms.
No issue could be more difficult to deal with than a condition that involves the mind. Altered perceptions, such as those brought about by schizophrenia and drug use, could make reality seem intolerable and miserable, and it takes special care and treatment to manage problems such as these.
This is why we here at 449 Recovery, our mental health and addiction treatment center in Orange County, CA try our best to know as much as possible about the conditions that our patients suffer from. Achieve a better quality of life. Contact us today.
Dr. Warren Taff MD, graduated from the University of Birmingham, England School of Medicine, with a BA from Rutgers University. He then went on to UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles Health and Human Services and received an MPH. He also attended an internship in internal medicine, with the Veterans Administration. Dr. Taff’s residency includes General Psychiatry at USC, with elective residencies at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, and Royal College of Psychiatry. Board certifications include American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Taff has extensive experience in both psychiatry and addiction medicine, extending from 1979 to present. He has held professional titles that include Chief of Staff and Medical Directorship in both hospitals and private sectors.