Understanding Schizophrenia: Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

December 13, 2023
Avatar for Jyoti Kinghorn, PhDJyoti Kinghorn, PhD
Understanding schizophrenia symptoms

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric illness that has effects on how a person sees the world, how they think, feel, and act. Schizophrenia can affect memory, interferes with senses such as smell and hearing, and gives an impression that the patient has lost touch with reality. It is difficult for people suffering from schizophrenia to participate in day-to-day activities, regularly attend school or work, socialize, or maintain relationships. Schizophrenia is caused by a combination of many genetic factors, brain structure and function, and environmental factors.

Schizophrenia symptoms and diagnosis


Schizophrenia symptoms and diagnosis


Schizophrenia is often diagnosed in young individuals between the ages of 16 and 30, usually after an episode of psychosis. A quarter of all cases are diagnosed in adults over 45 years of age. Schizophrenia is not commonly observed in young children.

It is important to get medical help as soon as possible after the episode of psychosis. Treatment can help ease the symptoms and prevent the condition from getting worse. While the episode of psychosis will be the most noticeable sign that someone has schizophrenia, research indicates that it is preceded by more gradual changes. 

The changes can be in the mood, thinking, or social functioning. Recognizing symptoms of schizophrenia can help you get timely medical help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms of schizophrenia can differ from patient to patient, but they usually fall into three categories- psychotic symptoms, negative symptoms, or cognitive symptoms.


Psychotic symptoms


These include changes in how a person sees the world. The patient could have a distorted view of what is going on around them, and they may lose a shared sense of reality with others. These symptoms could show up sometimes, or be present all the time.

Psychotic symptoms can manifest as:

Hallucinations. Patients may observe a distorted reality. They may see taste, smell, or sense things that don’t exist, or hear voices.

Delusions. Patients may believe strongly in some things without evidence and refuse to be convinced otherwise. For example, they may believe that someone is sending them messages or controlling them.

Incoherent thoughts or speech. Patients may not be able to take a thought to its logical conclusion. They may change subjects, make up words, abruptly start or stop talking, or have muddled reasoning. They may make up words or have garbled speech.

Incoherent or disorganized movements. Patients may move around differently than expected. They may repeat some motions or keep turning a certain way repeatedly for no reason.


Negative symptoms


These include a lack of things that should be there. Patients exhibit a lack of motivation, enthusiasm, and interest in daily activities. They may stop making facial expressions, talking, or moving very much.


Cognitive symptoms


Patients have difficulty in processing available information to make informed decisions, and staying focused to see decisions through. For example, they may see that they have nothing to eat at home but do not follow the thought through to think of buying food for grocery shopping. They might also lack focus and memory for grocery shopping. The emergence of cognitive symptoms can have detrimental effects on the day-to-day functioning of the patient.

Note: A person with schizophrenia may not show all of these symptoms, and may not show any symptoms some of the time. It is important to remember that only a medical provider can make a diagnosis of schizophrenia. All you can do is make sure that you or your loved ones get help from a psychiatrist.

Treatment can help patients with schizophrenia


Schizophrenia treatment


Schizophrenia is a disease that can turn a person’s life upside down. It not only diminishes their ability to find enjoyment in day-to-day life but can also make it harder for them to care for their needs. Family members may feel distressed and unsure of how they can help. However, treatment options are available.

Antipsychotic medications can reduce the intensity and frequency of symptoms.
Because everyone is different, medications can have different effects and side effects on different people. The first medication and dose prescribed by the psychiatrist may not be what is taken long-term. 

It requires a constant loop of communication with the medical provider about the patient’s symptoms and effects of the medicine to get to a treatment plan that works best for them.

The NIMH warns to never stop a medication without discussing it with your medical provider. Working with them can help achieve a medication regimen that is effective and feels good.

In combination with medication, the medical provider may recommend psychotherapy (talk therapy), as well as programs that offer support and education to family members. A combination of medication and social therapies can have the best results.

Support groups help people with schizophrenia


The road to recovery


There is no cure for schizophrenia, but medical treatments can help treat and manage the symptoms enough that someone with schizophrenia can live a happy and fulfilling life.

In one study, 70% of the people on antipsychotic medications saw their symptoms go away completely. The gains made from treatment also seem to last for decades or longer. However, a lot of people will also rely on strong support systems from their family, friends, and support groups like the ones listed below. As the years go by, many people with schizophrenia will find that they benefit from the connections and resources offered by their support groups.

If your loved one has schizophrenia, you can support them in the following ways:

  1. Help them in getting medical treatment.
  2. Encourage them to stay on their medicine and talk to their medical provider if they think something is not working.
  3. Be mindful that their brain is working differently than yours. Their delusions and hallucinations feel real to them, so be kind and respectful without tolerating or condoning inappropriate behavior.
  4. Help them in finding the perfect support group for them. There are many support groups and resources available for individuals with schizophrenia. Help them find a free and trustworthy group like the ones listed below. It may take trial and error to find the group they feel most comfortable in, but it is of utmost importance as the group can help them in ways you may not be able to. The connection, stability, as well as knowledge sharing, will be important for them going forward.
  5. Find a support group for yourself. A support group can help you too! Interacting with other family members and friends of people with schizophrenia may help relieve some of your own stress, anxiety, and sadness. The group can also help equip you to be a better support for your loved one.


Resources for schizophrenia


The information provided in our blog posts is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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