How Is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?

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Schizophrenia can only be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, not a psychologist as some people mistakenly believe. A psychiatrist differs from a psychologist in that a psychiatrist will have completed medical training first and is able to prescribe drugs. A psychologist will have studied human behaviour and the mind so can implement psychological therapies but cannot prescribe medication.

Symptoms of schizophrenia are usually classified into positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disorganised speech and behaviour. Negative symptoms are so called because they represent a lack of responses rather than positive responses, for example, lack of emotion, lack of motivation, lack of movement, disinterest, apathy, saying few words if anything, staring into space and so on.

The DSM-IV criteria states that schizophrenia can be diagnosed if two or more of the following symptoms are present:

•    Hallucinations
•    Delusions
•    Disorganised Speech
•    Disorganised Behaviour
•    Catatonia
•    Negative Symptoms

and

•    There have been signs of disturbance for a period of 6 months or more

and

•    Poor social and occupational functioning

What is known about the causes of Schizophrenia?

Scientists believe that there is a strong genetic element to schizophrenia and have managed to pinpoint certain genes that are known to have an impact on the development of schizophrenia.

The genetic element is also apparent when we consider that schizophrenia appears to run in families. For example, if one identical twin develops schizophrenia then there is a 50% chance that the other will develop it too. If a parent has schizophrenia then their children have a 17% chance of developing the condition. This is vastly different to the 1% affecting the population in general.

Some studies have indicated that brain chemistry plays a role in schizophrenia, particularly regarding the neurotransmitter dopamine as an excess of dopamine or oversensitivity to dopamine has been implicated in some individuals with schizophrenia.

Brain structure is also a consideration as particular ventricles have been found to be enlarged in some people with schizophrenia.

Psychological factors are also believed to play a part in developing schizophrenia and even in how well we recover from it. It is interesting to note that people from lower social backgrounds or those who have suffered abuse as a child appear to be more at risk of developing schizophrenia.

As there is such a wide variety of possible causes and triggers, some professionals now believe that schizophrenia may actually be a range of disorders as opposed to just one.

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