According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia is an often debilitating mental health disorder that alters the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. While it is not as common as some other mental health disorders – only about 0.8 percent of people have it – it can create havoc in the life of the person who has it and loved ones who are affected. The delusions, hallucinations, mood changes, and cognitive challenges of this disorder can severely interfere with a person’s ability to maintain a daily routine and enjoy healthy relationships and activities.
Many people don’t know how to recognize schizophrenia in themselves or others; however, there are signs that schizophrenia is present. Generally, these can be divided into three types of symptoms.
What Are The Signs Of Schizophrenia
- Thought disorders
- Movement disorders
- Alterations in mood and emotional response
- Hygiene problems
- A decrease in speaking
- Decreased pleasure in enjoyable activities
- Memory problems
- Poor decision-making skills
- Inability to focus
These symptoms and how they are recognized are discussed further below. It is important to note that some of these signs and symptoms may be related to other mental health disorders; a true diagnosis of schizophrenia requires analysis by a mental health professional.
People with schizophrenia often report hearing voices or seeing things that are not really there. According to a study from Schizophrenia Research, 80 percent of people with schizophrenia experience hallucinations across multiple senses, including visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory perception. Of these, about 27 percent report hallucinations along only one sense at a time, while 53 percent report experiencing hallucinations through multiple senses at once, or multimodal hallucinations.
Hallucinations can sometimes make a person behave in odd ways in public. For example, the person may appear to be listening to or staring at something intently for no reason. Sometimes, the hallucinations may cause the person to behave in unexpected ways.
Broadly speaking, delusions are beliefs in things that are not true. In schizophrenia, the effect on thought processing can lead a person to believe certain things about themselves or others that reach levels of psychosis, which usually involves paranoia. According to the nonprofit Schizophrenia.com, delusions can take many forms, such as:
- Belief that the individual is someone else, including famous historical persons or deities
- Belief that the individual is being pursued, talked about, watched, or harassed
- Belief that random events are attempting to relay a special message to the individual
- Belief that a famous person is in love with the individual
These delusions can put the individual or others at risk, if the person attempts to act on them – for example, a belief that the person can fly or that someone else is trying to attack the individual.
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3. Thought Disorders
Sometimes, people affected with schizophrenia have difficulty understanding or relaying coherent thought. As described by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, they may have difficulty understanding logical trains of thought, which manifests as an inability to follow instructions or relate to a reasoned argument. It also may come across as the person being unable to string coherent thoughts together in conversation. This may make it difficult for others to comprehend or follow what the person is saying. This symptom may even lead to the person speaking nonsensical or made-up words.
4. Movement Disorders
Spastic, jerky, or clumsy movements are often found in people with schizophrenia. This can range from what appears to be a display of silly behavior to having sudden, unpredictable movements or repetitive motions. The person may also have rapid eye movements and be unable to focus their eyes on any one thing.
Alternatively, schizophrenia can lead to a complete lack of movement or response, referred to as catatonia. These types of movement disorders, as described by Mayo Clinic, can potentially indicate schizophrenia when found with the other signs and symptoms.
5. Alterations in Mood and Emotional Response
A person with schizophrenia may report not feeling strong emotions, or, in some cases, not feeling anything at all. This lack of emotional response, called anhedonia, can lead to the person not being able to make social connections. For example, the person may not make eye contact or vary facial expressions, or may react to certain social cues, events, or news with inappropriate emotional responses. As described on Schizophrenia.com, this may also cause the person to stop participating in events or activities.
On the other hand, sometimes people with schizophrenia display sudden bursts of anger, irritation, or hostility. This can occur based on hallucinations or delusions, or may stem from cognitive challenges. It is important to note that people with schizophrenia are more likely to pose a danger to themselves than to others. However, NIMH explains that if an individual with schizophrenia is also struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, this symptom is more likely to lead to aggressive or even violent behavior.
6. Hygiene Problems
The person’s withdrawal from life and decreased ability to feel may lead to the person being unconcerned with or unable to perform hygiene activities. The individual may look unkempt or messy, wear dirty clothing, or perhaps even smell bad due to not being able to keep clean. This can be complicated by the fact that the person may become argumentative or refuse to comply when reminded to bathe or groom, as described by Everyday Health.
7. A Decrease in Speaking
The positive symptom of thought disorder may be one reason that individuals with schizophrenia don’t talk very often. This symptom, also called alogia, may also be a result of the cognitive challenges that result from the condition. In fact, a study from Schizophrenia Research indicates that people with this condition may have trouble talking because problems with memory and cognition make it difficult for them to remember the proper meanings of words or how to use them.
8. Decreased Pleasure in Enjoyable Activities
All of these symptoms can lead to the person struggling to enjoy or be able to participate in activities, conversation, or other interaction with others. As a result, the individual with schizophrenia often begins to withdraw from life and other people. Relationships begin to disintegrate, and new ones are difficult to create. The person may be unable to engage in or follow through on goal-driven activities, abandoning them and spending more time alone, in thought.
Many of these negative symptoms may lead others to believe that the person with schizophrenia is simply becoming lazy or disorganized. However, the fact is that the individual is truly struggling with the ability to perform some of life’s most basic tasks and activities.
9. Memory Problems
As described in an article on Psych Central, a lesser known sign of schizophrenia includes disruption to the person’s memory. People with the condition may develop gaps or holes in their autobiographical memory, losing the ability to remember prominent events and even people in their lives.
Recent research described on ScienceDaily indicates that a brain marker for this symptom has been discovered, enabling further research into why this memory loss happens and giving hope for new ways of treating schizophrenia. In the meantime, this can be one of the most devastating symptoms of the disorder, especially for those who are close to the individual.
10. Poor Decision-Making Skills
The inability to process thoughts, reason, and logic can lead the person to a lack of sound decision-making abilities. According to a study from Schizophrenia Research, this also has to do with the fact that people with schizophrenia do not tend to regret decisions or experience the negative consequences of bad choices. This negates the usual intake of information that leads people without the disorder to learn ways of making more beneficial choices.
11. Inability to Focus
Often, if a person displays an inability to focus on conversation or the steps of a task, it is assumed the person has something like an attention deficit disorder or is simply distracted. However, people with schizophrenia also display this symptom for a number of reasons. It is assumed, as stated on the website Schizophrenic.com, that this is another result of the disruption of cognitive capabilities caused by the disorder.
While the symptoms of schizophrenia can be extremely debilitating and can lead to the person being cut off from others and thus unable to get the help they need, it is possible to treat the symptoms and help the individual learn to cope with the various elements of the disorder. Schizophrenia is not a problem that can be self-treated. It is important to get help from professionals trained in recognizing, diagnosing, and treating the disorder. With this help, individuals struggling with schizophrenia can gain control over the disorder and return to a functional, engaged life.
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