According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder, is, “a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.” Schizophrenia is often described as a disconnect from reality, where a person no longer experiences the same reality as the general population.
Schizophrenia affects between 0.25% and 0.64% of the adult population. To put that in perspective, the adult population of Boston is about 525,000 people, so about 1,300 to 3,300 people in Boston might have schizophrenia.
People with schizophrenia are usually diagnosed between their teens and their 30s. This differs slightly between men and women. Men are usually diagnosed earlier, in their teens and early 20s, while women are more likely to be diagnosed between their early 20s and their early 30s.
To diagnose schizophrenia, mental health professionals will look at a variety of factors and symptoms, but in most cases, the onset of psychotic symptoms for the first time (known as a psychotic episode) is usually when a diagnosis is made.
That being said, diagnosis can be difficult. Usually, a person who has schizophrenia does not believe they have it. This contrasts with a disease like bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, where the symptoms are usually much clearer to the sufferers.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
People with schizophrenia may experience the following symptoms:
- Hallucinations, including hearing voices and seeing people or things that aren’t there
- Paranoia and delusions (believing that people are trying to hurt or kill you, believing that you are getting messages from technology, like the TV or internet)
- Thought issues/cognitive issues—disorganized speech and thoughts
- Seeming to be emotionally “flat” or disconnected emotionally from people or events that should inspire emotion or that once did inspire emotion
- Lack of interest in activities that one used to enjoy or in relationships that once held meaning
- Inability to tell that you have the illness in the first place (this is known as anosognosia)
The last symptom makes treating schizophrenia particularly hard because patients will often believe that the mental health professionals who are trying to help them are part of a grander conspiracy against them.
Risk Factors for Schizophrenia
There are several risk factors for schizophrenia, including:
- Taking certain types of psychoactive drugs, like marijuana or LSD, at a young age
- Being in certain stressful situations as a child, including living in poverty
- Having nutritional problems before birth or being exposed to viruses
- Having differences in your brain structure or your brain chemistry
Having a family history of schizophrenia also likely plays a role in your likelihood of developing the disease.
Fortunately, long-term treatment options are available.
Schizophrenia Treatment Options
A diagnosis of schizophrenia can be overwhelming, and unfortunately, there is not a cure, but there are treatment options available. People with schizophrenia can live a normal life with proper treatment.
Treatment options include:
- Antipsychotic medications
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Schizophrenia support groups
Treatment is often difficult for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that, as stated earlier, many who suffer from schizophrenia do not believe they have the disease.
Additionally, the side effects of antipsychotic medications can be severe, leading many people with schizophrenia to go off their medications. Medication compliance is a major problem for people with schizophrenia.
Another problem is that schizophrenia is often found to go along with other mental illnesses, like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or major depressive disorder (MDD).
Learn More About Clinical Studies in Boston for Schizophrenia
Have you been diagnosed with schizophrenia? You may qualify for a clinical study on schizophrenia.