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Schizophrenia is a mental health condition which is associated with a chronic, that is more that 6 month, history of social behaviour that is thought to be abnormal and with the patient being considered to be out of touch with reality.
Schizophrenia isn't a condition characterized by a split or multiple personalities. The word schizophrenia does mean "a splitting of the mind" but it rather refers to a disruption in normal emotions and thought processes.

Causes

There are multiple causes that are thought of and they may include the following factors. 

  • Genetics, especially where first degree relatives are involved, is thought to play a large role in the development of this disease.
  • The dopamine hypothesis - this is the thought that overactive dopamine receptors in the brain results in excessive dopamine being produced and this results in the symptoms experienced. This hypothesis is backed up by the fact that medications such as antipsychotics block the mentioned dopamine receptors, which reduces the amount of dopamine, and the patient's symptoms would therefore improve.

  • Medical conditions such as HIV, syphilis and an overactive thyroid would also need to be excluded as reasons for psychotic symptoms.
  • Certain medications and illegal drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines and cocaine can stimulate the release of dopamine which could cause a person to develop signs and symptoms of schizophrenia. If the episode doesn’t last longer than 1 month it's then considered a brief psychotic episode.

Patient demographics

    The age of onset of this condition occurs mainly in late adolescence and early adulthood. Schizophrenia can occur earlier as well where 23% of women and 40% of men will be diagnosed with this mental health issue before the age of 19. Unfortunately, the earlier the diagnosis is made the worse the prognosis is for the affected patients.

    Signs and symptoms

    The abnormal behaviours which are seen in schizophrenia include positive symptoms, which tend to respond favourably to medical treatment, and negative symptoms, which unfortunately have a poor response to medication. 

    Schizophrenia includes a pre-onset phase which can last up to 24-30 months where the patient experiences atypical symptoms such as social withdrawal, a state of unease or social withdrawal.

    The positive symptoms can include the following:

    • Disorganized thinking processes and speech - This behaviour includes experiencing ‘word salad’ where the patient's speech isn’t understood. Another example is the patient's mind running through different loosely associated subjects while talking.
    • Disorganized or abnormal motor behaviour - This can include childlike behaviours with no clear goal in mind, resistance to instructions, useless or excessive movements and bizarre postures.
    • Perceived beliefs which are false - These false beliefs or delusions could be those of paranoia where the patient thinks that people are out to get them, or those of delusions of grandeur where they think that they possess qualities regarding popularity, fame or fortune greater than others.
    • Hallucinations - These can be visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory and olfactory in nature. 

    The negative symptoms include the following:

    • Reduced motivation.
    • Lack of emotional expression and eye contact.
    • Speaking in a monotone.
    • The inability to experience pleasure.

    Complications

    If left untreated, this mental health issue can lead to the following problems.

    • Depression.
    • Anxiety and phobias.
    • Self-harm.
    • Social isolation and family conflicts.
    • Inability to work or to attend school.
    • Poverty and/or homelessness.
    • Alcohol and substance abuse.
    • Aggressive or dangerous behaviour.
    • Suicide attempts.
    • Premature death. 

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