schizophrenic woman reaches out to an imaginary hand

What are schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders?

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Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders are serious mental disorders that affect a person’s thinking process and behavior. Most affected is the person’s ability to discern what is real and what is fantasy, and this feature translates into difficulty relating with other people who do not perceive the world in a similar way.

Schizophrenia is a chronic disability that creates “psychotic episodes” marked by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. Because of its powerful effects, it can be among the most disabling mental disorders. Schizoaffective disorders share many of the same symptoms as schizophrenia and add symptoms related to mood, such as depression. Both of these disorders are highly complex in function and presentation.

Unfortunately, schizophrenia is commonly misunderstood as dissociative identity disorder, or split personality.  It is important to understand the distinction between the two. Schizophrenia does result in confusion and a change in personality during the patient’s psychotic episode, but not a second personality altogether.

Effects of schizophrenia vary from person to person. Some patients experience only one psychotic episode in a lifetime, while others endure more frequent episodes. Generally, patients are able to live relatively normal lives outside these psychotic episodes. However, some patients may suffer more anxiety during cycles of the disorder known as relapses and remissions. Read more here.

schizophrenic man sitting alone in a dark room with head buried in arms

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into one of three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive:

Positive Symptoms – Rather than meaning “good,” positive symptoms indicate thoughts and behaviors that are added to the patient’s normal routine. These additional actions are typically not based in reality. The more common positive symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations: sensations or visions that aren’t real. The most frequent hallucination is hearing voices. Often, these voices “poke” at the patient, being critical of the actions or decisions of the patient. Sometimes, patients will see or feel things that are not there.
  • Delusions: erroneous beliefs not based in reality. Even when proven to be false, the patient still adheres vehemently to these assumptions. Delusional thoughts may include the belief that others can hear their thoughts or that people have the ability to insert ideas into their thoughts.
  • Catatonia: being awake but in a stupor. Patients may stop functioning in certain ways, including ceasing to talk or freezing up physically.

Other positive symptoms are “disorganized symptoms.” These are added behaviors that indicate the patient cannot think rationally or react appropriately in a certain situation. Actions that fall into this category include:

  • Talking nonsensically or employing random words and phrases
  • Fluctuating between thoughts without a logical flow between topics
  • Forgetting items or losing track of them
  • Moving in repeated patterns
  • Locking up when facing a decision

Cognitive symptoms – Patients experience abnormal restrictions on brain function that affect their ability to live normally. When experiencing cognitive symptoms, patients will face difficulty with executive functions such as:

  • Recognizing that there is an issue
  • Processing information presented to them
  • Making decisions
  • Remembering facts and data

Negative symptoms – The opposite of positive symptoms; negative doesn’t mean “bad.” Instead, negative symptoms simply indicate common behaviors that are non-existent in a schizophrenia patient. These negative symptoms include:

  • Lack of emotion
  • Lowered emotive responses
  • Social withdrawal
  • Low motivation
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Less pleasure in everyday activities

Read more on symptoms here.

Who is affected by schizophrenia?

Typically, men show earlier signs of schizophrenia than women, beginning in their late teens or early 20s. Women who develop symptoms will generally show signs in their 20s and 30s. Only rarely does schizophrenia occur in children or adults over the age of 40.

About one percent of the US population is affected by schizophrenia, while schizoaffective disorder is found in 0.3 percent of the population. Early symptoms can be hard to spot as their onset tends to be rather gradual. However, early signs can be seen in subtle behavioral changes including:

  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Change in school or job performance
  • Sudden loss of temper


What causes schizophrenia?

Though the precise cause of schizophrenia remains unknown at this time, there are a number of factors that we find in patients experiencing the disorder, including:

  • Heredity/genetics: Those who have family members diagnosed with schizophrenia have a higher likelihood of developing the disorder themselves.
  • Brain chemistry: Patients with schizophrenia lack the ability to regulate certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These brain pathways affect thinking and behavior. When neurotransmitters malfunction, the brain does not function normally, resulting in schizophrenic behaviors.
  • Brain abnormalities: Abnormalities in the internal, physical structure of the brain are a cause of schizophrenia.
  • Substance abuse: Marijuana use and experimentation with psychoactive drugs increase the risk of schizophrenia.
  • Environment: Certain viral infections and stressful situations have the potential to trigger schizophrenia in patients prone to the disorder.
woman suffering from mental disorder

What are the consequences of schizophrenia?

There are any number of paths a schizophrenic patient may take. While many patients can lead relatively normal lives, when untreated schizophrenia may lead to:

  • Relationship issues
  • Poor school/job performance
  • Joblessness
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Homelessness
  • Poverty


Are people with schizophrenia dangerous?

Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous, despite the inaccurate portrayals we see in books and movies. Patients with schizophrenia tend to withdraw from activity and keep to themselves.

People with schizophrenia are typically more dangerous to themselves than to others.

How do you treat schizophrenia?

Because we cannot yet identify the true underlying cause of schizophrenia, the goal for treatment is to lessen symptoms and reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Depending on the individual case, treatment options include one or more of the following:

  • Medication: There are a number of antipsychotic drugs that have proven to calm the most concerning symptoms and provide relief from the onset of psychotic episodes.
  • Psychosocial Therapy: In addition to medicines, there are psychosocial treatments that help patients manage their symptoms. These options include rehabilitation, individual psychotherapy, family psychotherapy, and other rehabilitation methods.
  • Coordinated Specialty Care: When appropriate, a combination of medicine and therapy has benefitted patients, especially when it can be applied as early treatment.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy: Small electric shocks to certain regions of the brain can provide a stimulation therapy that is effective for schizophrenia.
  • Hospitalization: Some cases may be severe enough, or patients may pose a high enough risk to themselves, that hospitalization is the best course of action.


How can I help a friend who has schizophrenia?

As with any person suffering from a mental health disorder, it is important to remain respectful and supportive. Remember that your friend’s condition seems very real to him/her, no matter how it appears to you. Encourage your friend to get help and remain in the treatment plan until a trained professional agrees it is safe to stop treatment.

We at Bridgepoint have counseled and treated many cases of schizophrenia, and we are ready to help you and your loved one learn to cope with symptoms and lessen their effects. Contact us today and schedule a visit with one of our licensed staff members. We are specially trained to walk you through the process of relief and restoration.