Schizophrenia: An Overview of a Debilitating Mental Illness

Schizophrenia: An Overview of a Debilitating Mental Illness

Symptoms & Treatments

Schizophrenia is a thought and mood disorder that can be devastating to those suffering from it. The disease can be debilitating causing loss of livelihood, family problems, divorce, and a myriad of problems. Many clinicians believe it to be the worst form of mental disease because it so transforms the life and personality of the sufferer. Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder that affects the brain and is believed to be rooted in biological causes.

The symptoms of schizophrenia are often more obvious with respect to other mental illnesses. The symptoms of the disease can include: disorganized thoughts, hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre behaviors (Pinel, 2007, p. 482). A person with schizophrenia may have difficulty telling the difference between real and unreal experiences, logical and illogical thoughts, or appropriate and inappropriate behavior (MSN Encarta, 2009).

There are five types of schizophrenia: paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, and residual. The five categories of schizophrenia are distinguished by symptoms. For example, paranoid schizophrenics display obsessiveness with irrational beliefs. They may believe that strangers or the government is following them. Disorganized schizophrenics are often confused and experience disorganized speech and behavior. For instance, disorganized schizophrenics will say words out of context or repeat behaviors due to being confused. In contrast to paranoid and disorganized schizophrenics, catatonic schizophrenics experience comatose like states marked by extreme rigidity and statue like postures. The fourth subgroup of schizophrenics is the undifferentiated schizophrenic. These sufferers will either have a combination of symptoms or have few symptoms but simply do not fit into any of the other subgroups. The fifth subgroup of schizophrenics is the residual schizophrenics. These afflicted persons experience a gradual decrease in the symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations or delusions (WebMD, 2009). However, the intermittent episodes that occur over time tend to be more negatively impacting on the persons mental health (WebMD, 2009).

The exact causes of schizophrenia remain a mystery, but in recent decades technological advancements have increased the understanding of the illness. Advancements in imaging technology such as the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) have uncovered a variety of abnormalities that are possibly linked with schizophrenia. Some of these abnormalities that have been associated with the disease include an abnormally small cerebral cortex and abnormally large cerebral ventricles (Pinel, 2007, p. 484). Research shows that abnormalities in brain structure and brain function often exist in patients suffering from schizophrenia (Pinel, 2007, p. 484).

Schizophrenia is also impacted by environmental causes. For instance, schizophrenia is rare, occurring approximately in 1% of the population, however; this percentage rises to 10% in instances where persons are related to a schizophrenic e.g., parent or sibling (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009). The evidence of genetic and biological causes is significant and most researchers tend to agree that the disease is biological in nature (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009). The biological factors associated with schizophrenia are impacted by environmental causes. Factors such as “childhood abuse, stress, and serious infections have been shown to increase the chances of developing the disease.” (Pinel, 2007, p. 483)

The biological causes for this disorder are thought to be rooted in imbalances of certain neurotransmitters in the brain (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008). Dopamine is the most significant neurotransmitter found to be associated with schizophrenia. There are other neurotransmitters that play a role such as glutamate, GABA, and serotonin but none of which have the impact of dopamine (Pinel, 2007, p. 486).

There is currently no cure for schizophrenia but there are a variety of drugs which can reduce the symptoms. Neuroleptic medications are most commonly used. These medications work by binding to neuron receptors and reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia (Pinel, 2007, p. 486). The neuroleptic medications include: haloperidol, chlorpromazine, and clozapine (Pinel, 2007, p. 486). Clozapine has proven successful in treating a wide range of schizophrenic symptoms. The issue with this drug is the danger it presents with side effects. Clozapine can cause agranulocytosis. This condition is a severe loss of white blood cells impairing the immune system (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2009) “People respond individually to antipsychotic medications, although agitation and hallucinations usually improve within days and delusions usually improve within a few weeks.” However, medication is not effective in all cases. There is also significant difficulty in determining the type and amount of medication needed because of individual differences. Another serious issue with medication is that while some individuals respond well to medications, others do not. Sadly, a large number of schizophrenics will at some point need to be institutionalized either permanently or temporarily (Pinel, 2007, p. 483). Schizophrenia’s causes and treatments persist in being a mystery and for this reason continued research is needed.


MSN Encarta. (2009). Encyclopedia article. Schizophrenia. Retrieved January 4, 2014 from

National Institute of Mental Health. (2009). What causes schizophrenia. Retrieved January 4, 2014 from schizophrenia.shtml

Pinel, J. P. J. (2007). Basics of biopsychology. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

WebMD. (2009). Mental Health and Schizophrenia. Retrieved January 4, 2013 from

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Triola Vincent. Sat, Feb 06, 2021. Schizophrenia: An Overview of a Debilitating Mental Illness Retrieved from

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