If you think you might be living with schizophrenia, understanding the symptoms to be aware of is the best first step towards seeking professional support, a diagnosis and treatment.
In this article we'll take a look at the five main symptoms of schizophrenia, what treatment is available and what support you can access right now.
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects how you think, feel, and behave, and distorts your perception of reality.
It is a chronic condition that requires ongoing treatment, support and management.
Schizophrenia can develop in anyone, at any time, however it typically begins as a late adolescent or early adult.
While there has been no single cause of schizophrenia determined, there are three main areas that can contribute to developing schizophrenia.
The first is chemical imbalances in the brain relating to the signals used to communicate between cells, the second is brain development issues that occur before you are born, and the third is lost connections between different areas of your brain.
Along with the potential contributing causes to developing schizophrenia, there are also certain things that have been found to increase your risk of developing this mental health condition, including:
- Family history of schizophrenia
- Taking drugs as a teenager or young adult that are mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic)
- Complications with birth and pregnancy that may impact brain development, such as some viruses, or malnutrition
As mentioned earlier, initial symptoms of schizophrenia will typically start to develop in your late teens or early 20s.
The main defining symptom of schizophrenia is psychosis, where it becomes difficult to determine what is real, and what isn't.
This is typically experienced in episodes or short but intense symptoms.
Schizophrenia can also cause a range of other symptoms, including:
- Delusions – false beliefs that are not based in reality. A person with schizophrenia may believe that they are being followed, spied on, controlled by others etc. These beliefs can be very difficult to shake.
- Hallucinations – experiencing things that aren't really there. A person with schizophrenia may hear voices or see things that don't exist. These hallucinations can be very distressing and can interfere with a person's ability to function the way they usually would. People may become paranoid and fearful, and may have difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- Disorganised thinking – this is usually recognised by disorganised or unclear speech. This can include unrelated answers to questions, or putting together meaningless words that don't make sense. It can also include difficulty following directions, or an inability to stay on topic when talking about something.
- Disorganised behaviour – this can include extreme, abnormal behaviours like childlike silliness, resisting instructions, inappropriate actions, unpredictable agitation etc. It is important to remember that disorganised behaviour can also include more subtle signs such as confusion, difficulty focusing, and difficulty understanding instructions.
- Negative symptoms – this includes things like low motivation, inability to complete daily tasks, experiencing fewer emotions, or finding it difficult to pay attention or remember things. These symptoms can make it difficult to maintain relationships, work, or even engage in activities that you used to enjoy. People with negative symptoms may also experience difficulty expressing themselves or understanding the emotions of others.
To fulfil the criteria of a schizophrenia diagnosis, you would need to experience at least two of these symptoms within at least one month.
These symptoms are also often categorised into three groups: positive symptoms (delusions, hallucinations, disorganised thinking and disorganised behaviour), negative symptoms as specified above, and cognitive symptoms (difficulty paying attention or processing, learning and retaining information).
Research describes positive symptoms as reflecting an excess or distortion of normal function, and negative symptoms as a reduction or absence of normal behaviours related to motivation and interest or expression.
If you believe you are experiencing any symptoms, make sure you visit a health care professional as soon as possible – the sooner you talk to a professional, the sooner you can receive the right support.
How is schizophrenia diagnosed?
Schizophrenia is diagnosed based on a combination of medical and psychological evaluations.
These may vary based on your particular situation, however they typically include:
- Physical examination, to rule out other potential conditions or issues
- Medical tests, scans and screenings, also to rule out any other conditions, and screen for drugs and alcohol
- Psychiatric assessment, to evaluate your mental health, and determine if you are experiencing any schizophrenia symptoms
- Other diagnostic criteria
When to see a doctor
If you are experiencing any symptoms that could be related to schizophrenia, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will be able to start the diagnosis process, rule out any other possible conditions, and then provide you with the necessary treatment and support that's right for you.
Impact of schizophrenia symptoms on daily life
Schizophrenia symptoms can have a significant impact on your daily life, including your ability to work, maintain relationships, and complete daily tasks.
However, with the right support, you can successfully participate in each of these parts of daily life.
Schizophrenia can make it difficult to complete daily tasks such as maintaining personal hygiene, cooking, and cleaning.
Symptoms such as disorganised behaviour can make it challenging to stay organised, manage daily life and complete tasks efficiently.
To receive support to build your capacity to complete daily tasks, you may find both medical and psychotherapy treatments helpful.
Work and employment
Schizophrenia can make it more challenging for a person to work or maintain employment.
Symptoms such as disorganised behaviour and disorganised speech can make it challenging to complete tasks and communicate effectively with co-workers.
If you are having trouble managing work or finding meaningful employment, there are professional supports out there that can help, such as APM Disability Employment Services.
Schizophrenia can also affect a person's ability to maintain relationships.
Symptoms such as social withdrawal and lack of motivation can make it challenging to connect with others and form meaningful relationships.
Psychotherapy and community support groups may be able to help you develop your skills and manage the way your symptoms impact your relationships.
How to manage schizophrenia symptoms
While schizophrenia is a chronic condition that needs ongoing management, there are effective treatment options available that can help you get back to leading a fulfilling life.
If you believe you might be living with this mental health condition, it's important that you visit a health care provider as soon as possible.
Some of the typical treatment options they may suggest upon a diagnosis include:
Antipsychotic medications work by blocking the receptors in the brain that allow certain chemicals to be released.
This helps to reduce the intensity of the symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions and hallucinations.
However, it is important to note that these medications should only be taken under the guidance of a health professional.
Taking antipsychotic medications without proper medical supervision can lead to serious health complications and should be avoided at all costs.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you identify and modify irrational thoughts and beliefs that can lead to disruptive behaviours.
It can also help you learn to recognise and manage triggers that can lead to a relapse.
Family therapy can help family members better understand the illness and how to support their loved one.
It can also provide a safe space for family members to express their feelings and concerns, and learn how to communicate more effectively with one another.
While schizophrenia can not be managed entirely on your own, there are many strategies available for you to try that can support your other treatment methods.
Some tips to help you manage your symptoms include:
- Pay attention to what triggers your symptoms – keeping a mood diary could help with this
- Plan ahead for difficult times, and talk to trusted people about how you would like to be helped in crisis
- Keep a regular sleep routine
- Eat a healthy diet
- Practice stress relief and relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation
- Reach out to your trusted peers for support when you need it
Resources for immediate support
If you're living with schizophrenia and looking for support you can access right now, there are many mental health helplines that are always available, including:
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, always call 000.
No matter what stage of the journey you are on, there are resources available to help you manage your schizophrenia symptoms and learn to live a fulfilling life.
If you feel like you might be living with schizophrenia, it's extremely important that you visit a health care provider as soon as possible to get assessed and diagnosed.
Once you receive a diagnosis, there is plenty of support out there to help you manage your symptoms, and get back to living life the way you want.