Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that is characterized by psychotic symptoms and greatly affects how an individual feels, thinks, behaves and perceives reality. Auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs) are the hallmarks of this disorder. Unfortunately, like many other mental health disorders, there is a severe stigma associated with schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia can demonstrate such bizarre behavior that often frightens others around them. This mental health disorder can affect anyone regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity and it important that awareness is raised in order to eliminate the stigma associated with this disabling mental health illness. Schizophrenia develops later in life and many individuals can go through childhood and early adolescence without any signs of hallucination or delusions. The onset of this mental health illness occurs between the late teenage years and thirty years of age. Males generally experience the first onset of symptoms in their early twenties whereas the peak onset usually occurs in the late twenties for females.
JAMA study results
A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry discovered a new branch of personality research that may be able to lead scientists to recognize and diagnose schizophrenia earlier in life and maybe even before signs and symptoms appear. Personality traits as independent risk factors for developing a serious mental illness still remain limited however there is evidence suggesting certain personality traits are directly linked to eating disorders and other mental health disorders such as personality disorders, themselves. In this study, researchers found a substantial link between schizophrenia and teenage personality traits that may predict this disorder before symptoms appear later in adulthood. Low social maturity, a decrease in mental awareness and energy and emotional instability are three traits that appeared to be significant risk factors for developing schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Social maturity refers to the ability to adjust your behavior to conform to certain environments and social norms when necessary. Mental awareness and mental energy refer to paying attention to your surroundings while focusing to complete a task and react quickly to events whereas emotional stability refers to the ability to practice emotions in a healthy way in proportion to the events that spark them. In other words, emotionally mature individuals are able to perform their daily tasks without allowing their emotions to control them.
Causes of schizophrenia
Before this study, the only concrete etiologies for schizophrenia were known to be genetic and perinatal (during pregnancy) factors. The risk of schizophrenia in first-degree relatives (parents, offspring, siblings) of individuals with schizophrenia is 10% and the risk of schizophrenia is 40% if both parents have schizophrenia. There are many well-known genes that have been directly linked to schizophrenia and studies have also shown a strong correlation between bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia. Perinatal factors such as malnourishment and specific viral illnesses during pregnancy are known risk factors for developing schizophrenia later in life
Treatment for schizophrenia
Understanding the relationship between these personality traits and schizophrenia can potentially help develop therapies designed to help teenagers manage and overcome these traits in order to reduce the number of cases of schizophrenia that may emerge later in their life. As of now, medication, psychotherapy and psychosocial interventions are the mainstays of treatment. Antipsychotics are the first-line medications used in the treatment of schizophrenia and common antipsychotics include the following:
- Aripiprazole (Abilify)
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
- Olanzapine/fluoxetine (Symbyax)
- Ziprasidone (Geodon)
Antipsychotic medications are known to cause short-term and long-term side effects in some individuals and it may be necessary to try different combinations of medications to ensure the best results with the least amount of side effects. Psychotherapy treatments for schizophrenia include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and cognitive remediation. Psychosocial therapy includes social skills training and social cognition training, which work to teach individuals appropriate social skills and coping skills in order for them to integrate into society and function normally. Social workers may be assigned to individuals to help them gain job skills, access to educational programs and access to housing.
Living with schizophrenia can become life-threatening if left untreated. Individuals are more likely to develop medical conditions, worsening psychiatric symptoms, incarceration, homelessness, and suicide if left untreated. Accessing treatment and educating the general public on eliminating stigma are the two most important factors for combating this disease and living a successful life.