A loss of touch with reality. Disturbances in thought. Altered behavior and speech. Some adults would think this could easily be a classification for some teens, but those are just some of the cardinal symptoms of the psychotic disorder known as schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia affects about 1% of the population of Canada, and most often hits males between 15-25 and females 25-35. It's a chronic debilitating mental disorder that is often misunderstood.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

The leading theory as to the cause of schizophrenia right now is called the Dopamine Theory which states that certain parts of the brain have just way too much dopamine activity going on. A higher than normal level of dopamine activity is caused by either too much of the neurotransmitter or too many receptors for dopamine.

Did You Know?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the brain) that is involved in the fear response, the "rewarding" and addicting experience felt with certain drugs of abuse, and even breast milk production!! The Symptoms

This abnormal activity can trigger a wider variety of things to occur. For example, certain behavioral symptoms called "positive symptoms" lead a person to have delusions (wrong or irrational beliefs), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there) and also become very agitated.

It is this unique mental behavior though which leads to the unusual life of a schizophrenic. Their ability to hear voices, which can sometimes come in the form of hallucinogenic commands, may even lead to violent or suicidal behavior.

Certain delusions that schizophrenics develop may be the paranoid type where a person believes that someone else is out to get them. Or they can even have delusions where the person thinks that they have special powers or abilities.

Another positive symptom is talkativeness. Sure that may sound like some loud mouth in your class, but in a schizophrenic, their speech tends to be made up words (neologisms), repetition of other people's words (echolalia) and repeating senseless words or phrases (verbigeration). Sounds pretty different from the annoying person in class right?

Did You Know?
It's all in the genes...if your identical twin has schizophrenia, there is a 50% chance you can develop it too. If both of your parents had schizophrenia, there is a 40% chance that you can develop it! Another set of symptoms, called "negative symptoms", occurs as well. These include lack of motivation and concentration, social withdrawal, poor grooming, and a lack of emotion.

As a teen affected with schizophrenia, you can now begin to see that all of these symptoms can make attending school and keeping a normal social and family life quite challenging!

Diagnosing Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is typically diagnosed by a trained psychiatrist by talking to the patient and observing their behavior to see if any of the positive and negative symptoms are present. Once a diagnosis has been made, a schizophrenic must be managed for a very long time on medications. They must also be supported and monitored closely since about 50% of schizophrenics attempt suicide and 10% do kill themselves.

Did You Know?
More people diagnosed with schizophrenia are born in winter months (December to April). Why? Possibly due to increased viral infections of the fetus, but no ones knows for sure! Schizophrenia can be a life disabling disease and also a dangerous one to the person with the disease and those around that person. With no cure, it is important that medical attention and even more importantly that close family and friends play a role to help a schizophrenic return to a normal life.

Learn More!

Schizophrenia Society of Canada

DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Copyright 1994 American Psychiatric Association

Reus, Victor. Chapter 371, Mental Disorders, Harrison's Internal Medicine, 16th ed. Copyright 2007, McGraw-Hill Publishing.


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