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Imagine you are walking in a crowded street. Now, stop for a moment and take a look at the world around you, the buildings, the people passing by, the voices you hear. How real are they? Is it possible you are hearing things or seeing things that aren’t actually real? Well, for some people with schizophrenia this is possible.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder and probably one of the most complex points that a human brain can reach. It is associated with changes in the structure and functioning patterns of a number of key brain systems, including the prefrontal, medial and temporal lobe regions.

According to Katherine H. Karlsgodt, a psych researcher at UCLA, patients diagnosed with this disorder lose touch with reality and usually don’t even realize the fact that they have a mental illness.

Symptoms of the disorder are mainly categorized into three major areas: positive, negative, and cognitive. Positive symptoms can consist of delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech or behavior, and impaired cognitive ability. Negative symptoms are characterized by a loss or deficit, such as the removal of normal processes in the brain. Lastly, examples of cognitive symptoms include impairments in attention and working memory. However, different patients might experience different symptoms.

What are delusions? They are fixed and false beliefs for which there is no evidence. Similarly, hallucinations are false sensory experiences. People experiencing these symptoms might see images or hear voices that aren’t actually real, which has the potential to unfortunately escalate to committing or attempting suicide.

These images and voices are mostly negative and commanding. The early onset of the disorder, along with its chronic periods, disables most people who suffer from it as well as the people in close contact with them. As the patients experience mood shifts, emotional isolation, and withdrawal from social interaction, it may gradually prevent them from maintaining things like holding a regular job, study or engage in normal daily activities. This disability is ultimately a result of both the negative and cognitive symptoms.

Causes of schizophrenia

According to an article published in the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Journal, written by Krishna R. Patel, although the precise cause of schizophrenia is still unknown, several studies have shown that a combination of genetics and environment contributes to the development of the disorder.

The fact that genetics play an important role in the development of schizophrenia was proven through a study that has shown that the risk of illness is approximately 10% for a first-degree relative and 3% for a second-degree relative. This result is further supported by findings that siblings with schizophrenia often experience an onset of the illness around the same age.

Environmental influences could also stimulate the development of schizophrenia, especially in individuals who are already vulnerable to the disorder. Childhood trauma(s), being a visible minority, living in an urban area, and social isolation are examples of environmental stressors linked to this disorder.

An overview of statistics for schizophrenia

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), approximately 1.1% of the world’s population, over the age of 18, suffers from schizophrenia, which means approximately 20 million people worldwide are affected by it.

This mental disorder also commonly starts earlier among men. As mentioned in an article published by the public health department, of the Government of Canada, national data (2016-2017) shows that 1 out of every 100 Canadians aged 10+ were living with diagnosed schizophrenia. 56% were men and 44% were women.
A research study was done by Thomas J Craig, Qing Ye, and Evelyn J Brometin in 2006 shows that approximately 1.7% of all patients with schizophrenia die from suicide. In addition, another research done by Michael R. Phillips, published in The Lancet Journal in 2004, indicates that 10.1% of all people who have committed suicide had schizophrenia, which indicates how common suicidal thoughts and behavior are among people with this disorder.

Schizophrenia genes favored by evolution

Research actually reveals that genes linked to this disorder may also provide developmental advantages and therefore, have been favored by natural selection. 76 DNA sequences linked to schizophrenia were examined by researcher Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. As a result, out of the 76 genes studied, 28 showed evidence of being favored by natural selection.

A psychiatric research study conducted by Daniel Nettle and Helen Clegg suggests that people with schizophrenia could be more creative or imaginative than the general population, which increases the possibility of schizophrenia genes helping carriers to solve survival problems or attracting a mate.

Control and Cognitive Redirection Activities

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that unfortunately targets a large number of people, mostly in their twenties, and about half of the people who suffer from it, commit suicide or struggle with it daily. However, most people with schizophrenia are known to have a very strong imagination and therefore, tend to be more creative as a result. It is very important for the patients and their family members to be optimistic and seek help from a mental health professional in order to control the disorder. Lastly, keep in mind that anything, no matter how awful, can have a bright side as well.

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