Heavily stigmatized in today’s culture, schizophrenia is often confused with multiple personalities and the propensity to cause severe danger to others. Schizophrenic individuals may appear agitated, withdrawn, or unresponsive, inciting additional fear within the general public. Most do not realize that if you are suffering from schizophrenia, medications and psychological counseling have been found to substantially improve the lives of those suffering from this condition. And it’s most important to get treatment if you are suffering from schizophrenia, as it poses one of the highest risks of suicide among the general population, with up to 10 to 13% of schizophrenics carrying out successful suicide attempts within the first decade of diagnosis.
Though able to occur at any age, the likely onset for men is between the late teens and early 20s and the late 20s to early 30s for women. It is very unlikely for a diagnosis of schizophrenia to occur in individuals less than 12 years old and older than 40 years old. Life expectancy for schizophrenic individuals is reduced by approximately 10 to 25 years less than the average, though this is likely caused by the increased occurrence of physical symptoms and much higher suicide rates than the general population.
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are often categorized into positive and negative classifications and cognitive deficits. If you are suffering from schizophrenia and are undergoing treatment, you may have noticed that treatments tend to diminish positive symptoms pretty well.
Negative symptoms are more prone to not respond to treatment as readily as positive symptoms. Deficits in cognitive abilities are large indicators of the impact schizophrenia has on the quality of life of an individual. If you are suffering from numerous cognitive deficits, your functioning as an adult with the illness will be minimized and successful treatment interventions will be harder to attain.
Positive Symptoms include:
- Delusions – false beliefs that stay stable even when presented with facts contradictory of the beliefs
- Hallucinations (tactile, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory) – including hearing voices, seeing things
- Thought Disorders (dysfunctional thinking)
- Movement Disorders (agitated body movements)
Negative Symptoms include:
- Emotionally flat (flat affect)
- Dull speaking, monotone, disconnected from reality
- Inability to start or follow through with activities
- Lack of motivation
- Poverty of Speech (i.e., speaking less)
- Little or no interest in life or relationships
Cognitive Symptoms include:
- Inability to understand information and use it to for decision-making purposes
- Trouble focusing or paying attention
- Disorganized thinking, thoughts, and speech
- Difficulty remembering things; problems with working memory
- Lack of Insight – termed “anosognosia” – where the affected individual has no awareness they are suffering from schizophrenia
There are multiple types of schizophrenia and psychotic disorders - categorised by the severity and type of behaviour exhibited:
Paranoid Schizophrenia: The most common type of schizophrenia characterized by psychosis misaligned with reality. If you are suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, you may be unreasonably paranoid of others, have paranoid delusions that someone is after you and that they are trying to hurt you. Common paranoid delusions include coworkers, spouses, the government, and neighbors plotting to hurt you in some way. You may believe others are out to try to kill you, spy on your, make your life miserable, poison you, or cheat on you. Paranoid schizophrenia has a severe impact on relationships, understandably so, as if you are suffering from this disorder, you believe those that are close to you are trying to hurt you in some way. This may cause you to feel angered and agitated. To cause an even deeper impact on the situation, your paranoid delusions may be accompanied by hallucinations where you hear voices that are insulting you or prompting you to do bad things.
Schizoaffective Disorder:: Schizoaffective disorder is a type of combination disorder that combines symptoms of schizophrenia with a mood disorder – most likely either major depression or bipolar disorder. This type of schizophrenia is chronic and appears in intermittent episodes. Mood (affective) symptoms occur at the same time as the schizophrenic symptoms and the schizophrenic symptoms often stay put after the mood symptoms disperse. Common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include depression, mania, and classic schizophrenia.
Brief Psychotic Disorder: This is a short-term occurrence of schizophrenia, where there is a sudden onset of symptoms that only persist for less than one month. The causes of these brief stints of psychoses include an obvious stressor (e.g., death of a loved one, trauma from natural disasters), no apparent stressor (i.e., the symptoms come on due to no obvious reaction to a disturbing event), and postpartum psychosis – occurring in women within 4 weeks of giving birth. During this brief episode of psychosis, you might experience hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive deficits, as present during more general schizophrenia. It is unknown what causes brief psychotic disorder to affect certain individuals, but certain genetic and environment factors have been examined as culprits, including predisposition to develop mood disorders and psychoses within the family history.
Schizophreniform Disorder: This is another short-form occurrence of full-blown schizophrenia, where the affected individual experiences distorted thinking, emotional reactions, and perceptions of reality. If you are suffering from this disorder, you likely have a very hard time distinguishing between what’s real and what’s imagined. Though the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder and general schizophrenia overlap, the major difference is the length of duration. If you suffer from schizophreniform disorder, you experience psychosis symptoms for six months or less. If they persist longer than this time frame, you are likely to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia instead.
Delusional Disorder: As the name suggests, this is a form of psychosis where the main symptom is delusions – the inability to shake untrue beliefs. If you are suffering from this form of psychosis, it is not likely you are making up unbelievable scenarios – most delusions involve someone trying to poison you or harm you in some type of way. In reality, these delusions may be a heightened exaggeration of reality or just false altogether. A distinguishing characteristic of individuals suffering from this condition is that among other things, there is no bizarre behavior – you wouldn’t know someone is suffering from this condition if it weren’t for the delusions.
Shared Psychotic Disorder: Also known as “folie a deux” (the folly of two), this is a rare form of psychosis where an otherwise healthy individual begins to adopt the psychotic beliefs/delusions of someone suffering from schizophrenia. For example, if you are suffering from schizophrenia and believe monsters are after you and trying to abduct you, if your spouse (otherwise healthy) also starts to believe that monsters are out to get you, your spouse would be considered to suffer from shared psychotic disorder. If you and your partner separate, the delusions resolve.
In recent years there have been amazing advances in the treatment of these psychotic disorders, and the medication available today can reduce symptoms and allow sufferers to lead a mostly normal life.
Dr. Mapatwana has vast knowledge of these disorders, and the treatment options available. She has an in-depth understanding of the medications available and how they interact with each other and the human body. She closely monitors her patients to ensure that the combinations of medication are working for them, without unpleasant side effects.