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Schizophrenia is a common psychosis which affects approximately 280,000 people within the UK. It usually occurs during an individual’s late teenage years or early twenties, and men and women are equally affected.
Many arguments have been put forth to try and explain the causes of schizophrenia, but as yet research has been unable to come to a definitive conclusion. Some argue that it is caused by biological influences such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, highlighted by excess of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, whilst others argue that it may be the actual physiology of the brain which causes the disorder because research has indicated that some of those people who have schizophrenia have a brain that differs in structure to what is considered to be ‘normal’. Some researchers think that its cause lies in genetic inheritance, so if someone’s parents had the disorder, they may pass it down to their children and this is how they will end up with it as well.
On the other hand, some researchers believe that environmental issues are the cause and cite the fact that schizophrenia is often linked to times of extreme stress and upheaval in an individual’s life or that it occurs if an individual begins to abuse alcohol or drugs.
The symptoms of schizophrenia are classified into two different types: positive and negative. Positive symptoms are those which an individual did not have when they were well, whereas negative symptoms are those which represent a reduction or complete ending of things that they did which were enjoyable and beneficial prior to their illness.
Positive symptoms of Psychosis
A hallucination is where an individual experiences a sensation but with no evidence to account for it. For example, someone may see something that isn’t there, but most commonly they will hear voices. Hallucinations are very real to the person who experiences them and it can be very distressing for them if they experience a hallucination that involves voices which are giving them orders or which are shouting at them or criticising them. Voices may come from a person or they may come from an inanimate object such as a TV.
A delusion is a belief which the individual holds with complete commitment despite the fact it may be held with a very unrealistic view of what is actually happening. Delusions are often linked to hallucinations, for example someone who hears voices telling them to stop doing something might hold the delusion that they are being constantly monitored or that their thoughts are being programmed. Someone who has delusions may find hidden meaning in newspaper headlines or even in the colour of the doors on the street where they live.
Many individuals who have schizophrenia report that they have problems concentrating and that their thought patterns become confused or hazy. Sometimes this leads to confused speech, which makes communication difficult as others involved in the interaction will struggle to make sense of what the person who is affected is trying to say.
Thought and behaviour changes
Many individuals who have schizophrenia will be subject to sudden outbursts, which are sometimes linked to a hallucination that they may be having. For example, if someone has a voice in their head telling them to hurt someone, they may begin to shout that they don’t want to. Schizophrenia can also lead to very erratic and disorganised behaviour, with many people wearing inappropriate clothes or behaving in a manner which does not fit the occasion such as shouting and swearing at a funeral. They may also appear to sometimes be in a state of severe agitation for no apparent reason.
Negative symptoms of Psychosis
This refers to a state where someone has lost interest in everyday activities. They may also begin to neglect their personal hygiene, and as such their appearance may appear markedly changed to others. Some people who are apathetic may be reluctant to leave the house or even to get out of bed.
This symptom of psychosis is characterised by people having little, if any, interest in conversation. Speech itself may appear disrupted and there may be lengthy pauses between words, making communication very difficult and frustrating, often impacting on someone’s ability to do their job or to go about everyday activities, such as having an interaction in a shop whilst buying something or just indulging in small talk with a friend.
Those with schizophrenia often spend much of their time alone and reject the company of others. There is a general reluctance to become involved in any kind of interaction with others. The medical term for this is ‘avolition’.
This means that an individual is lacking in any form of energy, and as such has little motivation to do anything which may previously have given them enjoyment. Large amounts of someone’s day are therefore spent doing meaningless activities such as lying in bed or staring at the TV.
This can be quite a difficult symptom because someone who may previously have been fun and sociable may now appear to be a completely different person. Diminished emotion can also result in a lack of empathy, for example if someone would previously have been upset by a story of a dog dying, this would no longer have the same effect on them as their emotional reactions are no longer as strong as they were before.