What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder characterized by the combined presence of certain symptoms or the experience of being out of touch with reality and lack of interest in the outside world.

If you’re concerned that someone you know might be developing schizophrenia, you can look for signs in their physical appearance, content of expression, and their ongoing behavior.

Learn more about One Mind-funded schizophrenia research.

What Are We Doing?

One Mind is pioneering innovative treatments to help schizophrenia patients.

Dr. Carrie Bearden and the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study are discovering the means to prevent psychosis in its earliest stages.

To precisely target treatments, Dr. Philip Corlett’s neurocognitive research is revealing why psychosis debilitates.

Dr. Devanand Manoli aims to apply neurobiological discoveries to restore schizophrenia patients’ abilities to build healthy relationships.

SIGNS, SYMPTOMS, CAUSES AND THE PURSUIT OF A CURE

Knowing the Signs of Schizophrenia

 

Physical signs of schizophrenia

  • Neglects hygiene and personal appearance. As the disease advances, they may even lose weight and forget to shower. Though these signs will be obvious to you, the person afflicted may not notice.
  • Individual appears preoccupied or interactive with own thoughts.

 

Expressive signs of schizophrenia

  • The individual expresses unusual beliefs. (ex. The belief that others can read their thoughts or that everyday events have a special meaning just for them.)
  • Expresses unusual suspiciousness. (ex. May believe erroneously that people are watching or intend to harm them.)
  • Little to no emotion in their gaze, body language, or inflection when speaking.
  • Gives inappropriate responses, such as getting angry at innocent remarks or laughing at serious matters.
  • Speaks incomprehensibly, skipping from subject to subject and using unrecognizable terms. To see this sign, watch Schizophrenia: Heather

 

Ongoing behavioral signs of schizophrenia

  • Although the following symptoms can also indicate depression, if they occur alongside the physical and expressive signs, they may be signaling schizophrenia.
  • Individual stops pursuing hobbies or activities.
  • Does not connect with friends as much or stops altogether.
  • Performance in school or work declines.
  • Shows disturbances in sleep patterns.

 

If someone you know shows several of these above signs, please encourage them to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Schizophrenia can be treated and managed best when recognized early.

The 3 Basic Categories of Symptoms

Schizophrenia symptoms fall into 3 basic categories: positive, negative and cognitive.

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia

The positive symptoms of schizophrenia are two aspects of psychosis: delusions and hallucinations.

Delusions are when someone has ideas that do not line up with objective reality yet cannot be convinced that these ideas are false.

Some examples:

  • Not recognizing the boundaries between one’s own mind and those of other. May think that their own feelings directly affect those of strangers.
  • Erroneously thinking that people nearby are thinking or talking about them. They may even believe that certain people view them with disdain or are following them.
  • Believing one’s life has a crucial worldwide significance.

Hallucinations are sensory perceptions of things that are not real. Most commonly, someone experiencing this symptom will hear voices in their head that they attribute to entities outside themselves. Commonly, these voices will persecute the person afflicted.

 

Negative symptoms of schizophrenia

Individuals suffering from the disease will display extreme versions of the following qualities:

  • Little interest in/empathy for other people
  • Lack of will and energy to persist in pursuing goals
  • Diminished interest in pleasure or fun
  • Emotional numbness
  • Weakened or unrecognizable sense of self
  • Lowered tolerance to normal stress

 

Cognitive Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Someone with schizophrenia may experience cognitive symptoms that derail their thoughts in mid-track.

Disruptions can come in the form of:

  • Disruptions in short-term memory
  • Slow thinking or actively “forcing” thoughts along to keep up in a conversation
  • Difficulty making oneself understood
  • Distorted sense of time

What causes schizophrenia?

In simple terms, schizophrenia is commonly recognized to be caused by interactions between stressors in someone’s environment, both social and biological, and the combined disruption of various genes in their genome1.

As experiences and genetics differ for different people, learning the root causes can be found by answering these questions:

  1. Which genetic and environmental factors are involved?
  2. How do these factors act and interact?
  3. As scientists start to get answers to these questions, how can we apply this knowledge to find better treatments for people with the illness?

Further and ongoing Schizophrenia research is crucial though; this is a complex disease with complex causes, stressors, and symptoms.

 

Which genetic and environmental factors are involved?

When certain genes experience a disruption in their coding due to a mutation in someone’s genetic lineage, these mutations tend to lead to the development of Schizophrenia. Many of these specific genes have already been identified by correlating DNA sequences with the presence of the disease within affected family members under medical study. DISC1 and NRG1 are two common genes to experience coding disruptions and influence the development of Schizophrenia.

With the recent advent of genome sequencing, over 100 rare variations have been found through statistical genome-wide association studies involving tens of thousands of volunteer subjects.

As of now, it has become apparent that hundreds – or even thousands – of genes may play a contributing role to increasing one’s small statistical risk to develop the illness.

Environmental stress factors, both chronic and acute, also contribute to the development of schizophrenia. These vary from person to person and examples might include such stressors as obstetric complications, malnutrition and emotional trauma.

 

How do these factors act and interact?

Some of the genes known to contribute to schizophrenia susceptibility have known functions in the brain, such as regulating calcium flow into neurons, governing neural circuit formation and mediating neurotransmission. All of these genes are involved in neurodevelopmental processes.

Prevailing theory suggests that defects in these genes and in their expression progressively weaken the brain’s ability to healthily adapt to physical and emotional stress factors in one’s environment.

Too many synapses may be lost and circuits in the brain may lose healthy connectivity. Eventually, usually around adolescence, an acutely stressful period may cause the brain to cross a threshold causing the first overt symptoms of the disease to emerge.

 

From biology to better potential therapies

Fortunately, scientists are already starting to apply their knowledge of schizophrenia’s causes to the process of making new therapies to prevent and treat the disease.

For example, the One Mind-funded lab of Dr. Carrie Bearden at the CAPPS psychosis prevention center at UCLA has successfully tested an emerging form of psychotherapy called Family Focused Therapy. This approach enables the patient and their family to cooperatively resolve the stressful issues in the patient’s life. The team has found that this therapy can reduce pre-psychotic symptoms and significantly enhance the patient’s ability to function in life.

Also, the UCSF lab of the One Mind Assistant Professor Dr. Vikaas Sohal has identified a class of neuron whose electrical activity is out of rhythm in schizophrenia. A hopeful hypothesis is that restoring healthy rhythms to these neurons — perhaps through a form of implant-administered deep brain stimulation — could restore healthy circuit connectivity and remedy the disease’s symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization, over 21 million people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia. Although current medical treatments can help, their troublesome side effects and incomplete therapeutic effects mean that they are not nearly effective enough to cure the disease outright. People suffering from Schizophrenia deserve better.

At One Mind, we believe cures for schizophrenia are not just necessary but possible and we are committed to funding the journey to discovering them.

Already, One Mind has funded discoveries in schizophrenia research which are kindling hope among patients and their families. Our funded investigators are working on both ends of the spectrum of disease progression: Scientists like Dr. Carrie Bearden are leading teams learning to detect and treat psychosis before it fully manifests so that young people at risk can live to their fullest potential. Meanwhile, other scientists such as Dr. Kafui Dzirasa are learning to understand the disease at the circuit level so that new forms of “brain pacemakers” can be developed to remedy schizophrenia’s causes rather than just its symptoms.

“Brain diseases really get to the heart of who we are as human beings,” says One Mind funded scientist Dr. Vikaas Sohal. “How we feel, and how we relate to the world and to other people. So, of course, we want to help everybody function as best they can.”