ABOUT SCHIZOPHRENIA

A CHRONIC MENTAL ILLNESS THAT AFFECTS THINKING AND BEHAVIOR

When people hear the word schizophrenia, it can make them think of a lot of things—many of which are not true.

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that may affect the way you think, behave, and experience things. It is not anyone's fault. It doesn't develop because of something that you or someone else did. It is not a personal weakness or flaw. It affects people of all races and both genders, and cuts across all social and economic classes.

Every 12 months, approximately 1 in every 100 adults in the U.S. is affected by schizophrenia.

What causes schizophrenia?

The cause of schizophrenia is not known, but experts think that several factors may be involved:

  • A person's genes (family history): Schizophrenia sometimes runs in families. Every 12 months, it occurs in approximately 1 in every 100 adults in the U.S., but it occurs in 10% of people who have a parent, brother, or sister with the illness.
  • Biology (brain chemistry and structure): Scientists think an imbalance in chemical reactions involving some of the brain's neurotransmitters (substances that allow brain cells to communicate with each other) may play a role.
  • Environmental factors: Studies have shown that environmental factors may play a role in the development of schizophrenia.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia symptoms usually start between ages 16 and 30. Schizophrenia most commonly occurs in the late teens/adolescence and early adulthood. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), males tend to experience symptoms a little earlier than females.

Symptoms of schizophrenia in both adolescents (13-17 years) and adults are often separated into two general groups, called positive and negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms—Psychotic behaviors not generally seen in healthy people, may include:

  • Delusions—Believing things that are not real or true. Paranoia—the belief that people or things are trying to harm you or are out to get you—is a type of delusion
  • Hallucinations—Hearing voices, seeing, feeling, or smelling things that are not actually there
  • Disorganized speech—Difficulty organizing thoughts, remembering things, or keeping several ideas in mind at the same time. This may include switching from one topic to another or speaking incoherently
  • Disorganized behavior (eg, childlike silliness, agitation) or catatonic behavior (eg, being unresponsive to the environment, expressionless)

Negative symptoms—Are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors, may include:

  • Limited emotional expression (also called a “flat affect”)—A person's face does not move or he or she talks in a dull or monotonous voice
  • Lack of motivation—Difficulty starting and following through with activities
  • Limited speech—Speaking little, even when forced to interact
  • Lack of pleasure in everyday life

SCHIZOPHRENIA CAN BE DIFFICULT TO RECOGNIZE IN TEENS

Adolescent schizophrenia affects 1-2 per 1,000 people aged 13 - 17 years old. While the symptoms are the same as those seen in adults, they often come on more gradually for teenagers. Some early signs of schizophrenia may include:

  • A drop in school performance
  • Withdrawal from friends or family
  • Irritability or depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Odd or strange behavior

Approximately 1 in 3 adolescents with schizophrenia have significant deficits in social functioning, such as the ability to make and keep friends.

Sometimes it can be tough to tell the difference between normal teenage moodiness and signs of something more serious. But recognizing the symptoms early can go a long way toward managing a lifelong condition like schizophrenia.

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