(The Dallas Examiner) – Schizophrenia is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability worldwide. It affects approximately 24 million people – or 1 in 300 people worldwide. The illness is rare in children, with most people being diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 30.
Individuals with schizophrenia are two to three times more likely to die earlier than the general population, with an estimated 4.9% of people with schizophrenia dying by suicide – a rate far greater than the general population.
In recognition of National Mental Health Awareness Month, the National Institute of Mental Health recently hosted a Facebook Live event – Understanding schizophrenia.
During the event, NIMH experts Robert Heinssen, Ph.D., senior advisor for learning health care research and practice, and Sarah Morris, Ph.D., chief of the Adult Psychopathology and Psychosocial Interventions Research Branch, discussed the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia, risk factors, treatments and the latest NIMH-supported research on schizophrenia.
“Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that can have significant health, social and economic impacts,” Morris opened with.
Key characteristics of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which can be distressing for them and their family and friends.
The symptoms of schizophrenia can make it challenging to participate in usual everyday activities, like going to school, work, or spending time with friends. Heinssen discussed three types of symptoms that commonly occur in schizophrenia:
- Psychotic symptoms – refer to changes in the way that a person thinks, acts and experiences the world. These symptoms often include hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things others don’t; and delusional beliefs, such as paranoid ideas.
- Negative symptoms – refer to a loss of interest or enjoyment in daily activities or withdrawal from social life. People who experience these symptoms have difficulty showing emotions, or they experience a loss of motivation or sense of purpose.
- Cognitive symptoms – refer to problems in attention, concentration and memory. These symptoms can make it hard to follow a conversation, remember appointments, or learn new things.
Risk factors of schizophrenia
Several factors may contribute to a person’s chance of developing schizophrenia, including genetic factors.
“Studies suggest that many different genes may increase a person’s chances of developing schizophrenia but that no single gene causes the disorder by itself,” Morris explained.
Morris touched on a recent study led by researchers at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The study aimed to map the genetic landscape of schizophrenia in the brain. The study’s analyses showed altered expression in 2,700 genes in a specified region of the brain of people with schizophrenia, several times more than the number of genes found with altered expression in previous studies focusing on other brain regions.
Other risk factors are related to the environment. Environmental factors may include living in poverty, stressful or dangerous surroundings and exposure to viruses or nutritional problems before birth.
“Research suggests that a combination of genetic factors and aspects of a person’s environment and life experience may also play a role in the development of schizophrenia,” Morris said.
Research also shows that people with schizophrenia may be more likely to have differences in the size of specific brain areas and connections between brain regions.
Treatment for schizophrenia
Schizophrenia symptoms can differ from person to person. Because of this, treatments are personalized to help people manage their symptoms, improve day-to-day functioning and achieve personal life goals.
It is essential to seek help as early as possible when the symptoms of schizophrenia are first recognized. With appropriate treatment, people with schizophrenia can manage their lives, overcome challenges, and lead productive and meaningful lives.
“I want to emphasize at the start that mental health treatments work,” Heinssen said.
Types of treatment include:
- Antipsychotic medications – can assist in making psychotic symptoms less intense and less frequent.
- Psychological and rehabilitation treatment – help people to develop personal recovery goals, find practical solutions to everyday challenges, and manage symptoms while attending school, working or maintaining their relationships.
- Coordinated specialty care – a recovery-focused program developed for people with first-episode psychosis and early-stage schizophrenia.
“Family education and support is very, very important in the treatment of schizophrenia,” Heinssen expressed.
Those with a mental illness or know someone with a mental illness, who may be struggling emotionally or who has concerns about their mental health were encouraged to visit https://www/nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the suicide and crisis lifeline at 9-8-8.