Schizophrenia – what is it and what causes it?

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Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental illness resulting in extreme or bizarre thoughts and behaviours and which can also have an impact on bodily movements and speech. Quite often the person with Schizophrenia cannot differentiate between what is real and what is not and may suffer terrifying symptoms such as hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there) and delusions (believing in things that are simply not true).

Schizophrenia is found all over the world affecting approximately 1% of the population although there is a higher incidence in inner cities and heavily populated areas. It usually first manifests in young adulthood and affects men and women equally although it can appear earlier in men, such as in the late teens or early twenties, whereas in women it often first appears in the twenties or early thirties.

There are several different types of Schizophrenia based on the kinds of symptoms displayed. Symptoms are categorised into positive symptoms (hallucinations and delusions) and negative symptoms (apathy, lack of emotion and lack of social functioning). For example:

•    Paranoid Schizophrenia: Auditory hallucinations and delusions, hearing voices instructing them to do things or criticising them, wrongly believing that people may be plotting against them, harassing them or even out to kill them.
•    Residual Schizophrenia: No longer shows positive symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions but still shows negative symptoms such as ‘flattening’ of emotion, blank facial expressions and slow speech, a withdrawal from social contact, unable to find anything enjoyable
•    Catatonic Schizophrenia: Affects mobility and speech, a person may sit staring into space, immobilised for hours and mute or perhaps repeat words in a parrot fashion
•    Disorganised Schizophrenia: Chaotic or disorganised thinking or unusual thought processes, speech may be garbled and nonsensical

What causes Schizophrenia?

Unfortunately no one knows what causes Schizophrenia. However, on saying that, certain factors have been linked to the cause of Schizophrenia such as genetics, brain chemistry and brain abnormalities.

Genetics certainly do appear to play a significant role as Schizophrenia tends to run in families. There is some evidence to suggest that a chemical imbalance in the brain is linked to Schizophrenia, possibly involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, or that roots of Schizophrenia might lie in early pregnancy when something goes wrong with early brain development. Other studies involving brain imaging technologies have revealed some abnormalities in the brains of people with Schizophrenia but not in every one with Schizophrenia.

Basically no single cause of Schizophrenia has been identified but instead a number of factors appear to be implicated. No doubt future research will reveal more about this highly complex and mysterious condition.

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1 Comment

  1. Melinda Hagg
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    I live in Austraila perth and have a brother who has been diagnosed with skitsoenia(was misdiagnosed for 20 yrs). He will sit there and blank stare into space or has to sit infront of a reflection. He alsodoent talk oftrn only respondng with yes or no answers. Please could u email me back with any insight or understanding into this condition. Thanking you advance.

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