Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder characterized by abnormal interpretations of reality. It can lead to a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning and can be disabling. People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment, and early intervention may improve the long-term outlook.
Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking, behavior, and emotions. Common symptoms include:
Symptoms can vary in type and severity over time, and some symptoms may always be present.
Schizophrenia symptoms in teenagers can be difficult to recognize, as they may overlap with typical developmental changes during adolescence. Some symptoms include withdrawal, drop in school performance, trouble sleeping, irritability, and lack of motivation. Compared to adults, teenagers with schizophrenia may be less likely to have delusions and more likely to have visual hallucinations.
If you suspect someone may have symptoms of schizophrenia, talk to them about your concerns. Although you can’t force someone to seek help, offering encouragement and support may help them find a qualified doctor or mental health professional. If the person poses a danger to themselves or others, or is unable to provide for their basic needs, consider calling emergency responders or contacting community mental health agencies for assistance.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors. Problems with certain brain chemicals and differences in brain structure have been observed in people with schizophrenia, indicating that it is a brain disease.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering schizophrenia include a family history of the disorder, pregnancy and birth complications, and the use of mind-altering drugs during adolescence and young adulthood.
Left untreated, schizophrenia can lead to severe problems affecting various aspects of life, including suicide, anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, inability to work or attend school, financial problems, social isolation, health issues, victimization, and aggressive behavior.
There is no sure way to prevent schizophrenia, but sticking to the treatment plan can help prevent relapses or worsening of symptoms. Researchers are exploring risk factors for earlier diagnosis and treatment.
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Diagnosing schizophrenia involves ruling out other mental health disorders and determining that symptoms are not due to substance abuse, medication, or a medical condition. The process may include:
Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even during periods of symptom remission. Treatment involves a combination of medications and psychosocial therapy. Hospitalization may be necessary in some cases. A psychiatrist usually leads the treatment team, which may include psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and case managers.
Antipsychotic medications are the cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment, targeting brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. Second-generation antipsychotics are generally preferred due to lower risk of serious side effects. Some common antipsychotic medications include:
First-generation antipsychotics are also available, but they may have more neurological side effects.
Long-acting injectable antipsychotics are another option for some individuals.
Once psychosis recedes, psychological and social interventions are important for managing schizophrenia. These may include:
Most individuals with schizophrenia require some form of daily living support.
In severe cases or during crisis periods, hospitalization may be necessary to ensure safety, proper nutrition, and hygiene.
For individuals who do not respond to drug therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be considered, especially if there’s also depression.
Coping with schizophrenia can be challenging for both the affected individual and their friends and family. Learning about the disorder, staying focused on treatment goals, avoiding alcohol and drug use, seeking social services assistance, and practicing relaxation and stress management techniques can all be helpful. Joining support groups can provide additional support and understanding.
If seeking help for someone with schizophrenia, start by seeing a family doctor or healthcare professional. In some cases, you may be referred immediately to a psychiatrist. To prepare for the appointment, make a list of symptoms, personal information, medications, and questions to ask the doctor.