Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include:
- hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that do not exist
- delusions – unusual beliefs that are not based on reality
- changes in behaviour
Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
How common is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. The 2000 National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity in the UK found that 5 in 1000 people experienced a psychotic disorder (including schizophrenia and manic depression). Men and women are equally affected by the condition.
In men, schizophrenia usually begins between the ages of 15 and 30. In women, schizophrenia usually occurs later, beginning between the ages of 25 and 30.
The Prevalence Rate for schizophrenia is approximately 1.1% of the population over the age of 18 (source: Google) or, in other words, at any one time as many as 51 million people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia, including;
- 6 to 12 million people in China (a rough estimate based on the population)
- 4.3 to 8.7 million people in India (a rough estimate based on the population)
- 2.2 million people in USA
- 285,000 people in Australia
- Over 280,000 people in Canada
- Over 250,000 diagnosed cases in Britain
Causes of schizophrenia
- It is difficult to identify the causes of schizophrenia, but research suggests that several physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors interact and make people more likely to develop the condition. Current thinking is that some people may be prone to schizophrenia, but sometimes a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode. However, it is not known why some people develop symptoms while others do not.
- Early intervention and early use of new medications lead to better medical outcomes for the individual
- The earlier someone with schizophrenia is diagnosed and stabilized on treatment, the better the long-term prognosis for their illness
- Teen suicide is a growing problem — and teens with schizophrenia have approximately a 50% risk of attempted suicide
- In rare instances, children as young as five can develop schizophrenia
Schizophrenia tends to run in families, but no individual gene is responsible. It is more likely that different combinations of genes might make people more vulnerable to the condition. However, having these genes does not necessarily mean that you will develop schizophrenia.
Evidence that the disorder is partly inherited comes from studies of identical twins brought up separately. They were compared with non-identical twins raised separately, as well as with the general public. For identical twins raised separately, if one twin develops schizophrenia, the other twin has a one in two chance of developing it. In non-identical twins, who share only half of each other’s genetic make-up, when one twin develops schizophrenia, the other twin has a one in seven chance of developing the condition.
While this is higher than in the general population, it suggests that genes are not the only factor influencing the development of schizophrenia.
These are the chemicals that carry messages between brain cells. There is a connection between neurotransmitters and schizophrenia because drugs that alter the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain are known to relieve some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Research suggests that schizophrenia may be caused by a change in the level of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. Some studies indicate that an imbalance between the two may be the basis of the problem. Others have found that a change in the body’s sensitivity to the neurotransmitters is part of the cause of schizophrenia.
Traumatic head injury, such as the kind sustained in a fall or a traffic accident, may make people more likely to develop schizophrenia, but it is not known why this happens. Research has also suggested that head injuries during childhood could lead to the development of schizophrenia in people who are already prone to it.
There are some known triggers for schizophrenia.
The main psychological triggers of schizophrenia are stressful life events, such as a bereavement, losing your job or home, a divorce or the end of a relationship, or physical, sexual, emotional or racial abuse. These kinds of experiences, do not cause schizophrenia, but can trigger its development in someone who is already vulnerable to it.
Drugs do not directly cause schizophrenia, but studies have shown that drug misuse increases the risk of developing schizophrenia or a similar illness. Certain drugs, particularly cannabis, cocaine, LSD or amphetamines, may trigger some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Using amphetamines or cocaine can lead to psychosis and can cause a relapse in people who are recovering from an earlier episode. Three major studies have shown that teenagers under 15, who use cannabis regularly, especially cannabis and other more potent forms of the drug, are up to four times more likely to develop schizophrenia by the age of 26.
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