By Sania Patel
Edited By Danika Suh
Mental health. Most people are familiar with the term, though few truly understand the meaning of mental health. It's defined as the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of a person. Poor mental health is among the most common health conditions in the United States.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental health illnesses are described as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these).” Mental illnesses are associated with distress, anxiety, and depression and commonly cause problems in social, work, or family activities.
One example of a severe mental illness is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects how people think, feel, and act. Many people that suffer from schizophrenia comment on their loss of reality. If left untreated, schizophrenia can lead to persistent and disabling symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association defines schizophrenia as “a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population…symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking, and lack of motivation. However, with treatment, most symptoms of schizophrenia will greatly improve, and the likelihood of a recurrence can be diminished.”
There are three leading causes of schizophrenia: genetics, environment, and brain structure and function. With genetics, there are some cases where schizophrenia runs in families. Genetic studies strongly suggest that there are specific genes that increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. However, there is no particular gene that causes the disease itself.
Another cause of schizophrenia is the environment in which one is exposed to. There have been several studies that link schizophrenia to appear amongst people who have experienced particularly stressful environments. Some factors may include poverty, exposure to viruses, malnutrition, and sexual and physical abuse.
The final cause of schizophrenia lies within brain structure and function. Scientists believe that minor differences in brain structure can affect the interactions among neurotransmitters, further affecting the particular areas of function. The National Institute of Mental Health says, “differences in the volumes of specific components of the brain, in the way regions of the brain are connected and work together, and in neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are found in people with schizophrenia.” These differences can develop before birth or during puberty, resulting in psychotic episodes and initial signs of schizophrenia.
There are many symptoms of schizophrenia and they can be divided into three main categories. The first type of symptoms seen in schizophrenic patients are psychotic symptoms. Psychotic symptoms include altered perceptions, abnormal thinking, and odd behaviors. People experience changes in vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. People with schizophrenia often experience a loss of reality through delusions, thought disorders, and hallucinations such as voices and irrational fears.
Another category of schizophrenic symptoms is harmful symptoms which include reduced motivation, difficulty planning, indecisiveness, and an overall loss of motivation in daily activities. They also experience social withdrawal and have difficulty showing emotions and functioning normally. Patients also encounter the “flat affect,” which explains the reduction of expression or emotions through facial expression or voice tone.
Cognitive symptoms fall under the last category, including problems with attention, concentration, and memory. Some patients experience difficulty processing information to make decisions, have trouble focusing, and have issues using information immediately after learning it.
There are many effects of schizophrenia that involve both the physical and social aspects of a patient’s life. People commonly face anxiety, depression, fear, and thoughts of self-harm. Due to the illusions in their daily life, normal activities such as maintaining a job, cooking, cleaning, and social interaction can be neglected. Schizophrenia causes extreme paranoia in patients, which can further affect one’s ability to make decisions, take care of their finances, and deal with relationships. Overall, these effects can make it very difficult for a patient with schizophrenia to survive daily life, but there are some available treatments.
Before looking for treatment, one must be diagnosed with a mental illness. There are a series of steps to take before medical professionals can make an accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia. One must take a physical exam and complete various tests and screenings, as well as a psychiatric evaluation. They must meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia to be accurately diagnosed.
Current treatment of schizophrenia includes typical prescription and over-the-counter drugs. However, it is often recommended that patients seek psychiatric help in conjunction with their current treatment. Depending on the level of severity, one might also be offered a social worker, psychiatric nurse, therapist, and possibly a case manager or therapist. Many current medications provided for patients with schizophrenia only treat specific symptoms of the mental illness, but not the disease itself. Most still face hallucinations and illusions that embed themselves into reality and manipulate their emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions. Therefore, it is crucial to understand and continue searching for treatments for schizophrenic patients.