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5 Facts About Living With Schizophrenia

Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D.
Updated on April 10, 2024


    If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you may experience hallucinations, delusions, and other mental disturbances. This serious mental health condition is known as a psychotic disorder and it can cause significant interruptions to daily life.

    Schizophrenia and depression overlap in some significant ways. Understanding this connection can help you make sense of your diagnosis and treatment options. It can also help you improve your sense of well being and your quality of life. Here are some important things you should know.

    1. Schizophrenia Has Both Environmental and Genetic Risk Factors

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), schizophrenia affects between 0.25 to 0.64 percent of people in the United States. Although no one knows exactly what causes it, several factors can make a person more likely to get this diagnosis.

    Schizophrenia may be caused by genetic factors, or it may be caused by something in your environment. Infections, drug use, stress, and problems during pregnancy and birth can all influence schizophrenia.

    Infectious Diseases

    Certain infections may cause inflammation in the brain that later leads to schizophrenia. Most of the time, people develop infections before birth or while they are children, then develop schizophrenia later in life.

    Complications During the Prenatal Period and Delivery

    Babies who are born at a low birth weight or who don’t get proper nutrition before they’re born are more likely to develop schizophrenia. Sometimes, babies develop heart issues before they are born, some of which are linked to developing schizophrenia.

    Stress

    At certain ages, people’s bodies and brains undergo critical periods of development. People who experience high levels of stress during these periods, such as teenage years, may have a higher chance of developing schizophrenia later on.

    Seasonal Birth

    Some research seems to link the time of year a baby is born to an increased chance of developing schizophrenia. For instance, babies born during the winter or early spring seem to get diagnosed with schizophrenia more often than babies born at other times of year. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens, but it may be linked to:

    • Temperature
    • Humidity
    • Daylight duration
    • Infections
    • Changes of maternal hormones
    • Other factors that may affect a baby in the womb

    Genetics

    Researchers have studied how schizophrenia shows up in families. Sometimes, multiple family members share the diagnosis. Several genes may be associated with the condition.

    Studying twins helps researchers understand these links because identical twins share the same genes. One important study looked at schizophrenia rates in identical and fraternal twins. When one identical twin was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the other twin was 33 percent likely to also get diagnosed. In fraternal twins, that percentage was only 7 percent. This means that genetics are important when it comes to who gets schizophrenia, but not the only factor.

    2. Hallucinations Are Just One Symptom of Schizophrenia

    Many people think about hallucinations when they think of schizophrenia. However, there are more symptoms that people can experience. It’s helpful to put these into three categories:

    • Positive symptoms
    • Negative symptoms
    • Cognitive symptoms

    Positive Symptoms

    The positive symptoms of schizophrenia are also called the psychotic symptoms. They usually involve the person having an altered experience of reality, or experiencing psychosis. Some positive symptoms are:

    • Hallucinations — Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting things that aren’t real
    • Delusions — False beliefs, typically in relation to feeling important or persecuted
    • Thought disorders — Includes disorganized thinking or speaking

    Negative Symptoms

    The negative symptoms of schizophrenia relate to ways people may experience or do less of something compared to the general population. For instance, a person with schizophrenia might:

    • Lack motivation
    • Feel less pleasure in everyday life
    • Be unable to express emotions as vividly (also called “flat affect”)
    • Talk less than usual

    Cognitive Symptoms

    The cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia affect the way a person’s mind works. Different people with schizophrenia will experience these in different ways and to different degrees. These symptoms affect the way a person remembers, processes information, or focuses on something.


    If you have been diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia, it is important to stay aware of your thoughts, feelings, and mood. Be open and honest with your doctor, psychiatry team, and therapists about your experience.

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    3. Schizophrenia Shares Symptoms With Depression and Bipolar 1, Making It Difficult To Diagnose

    Specialized doctors, such as psychiatrists or psychologists, usually diagnose schizophrenia. The process involves looking at the person’s past, talking about their current symptoms, and performing some tests to rule out other conditions.

    Most people with schizophrenia get diagnosed relatively early in life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). For men, diagnosis usually occurs in the late teens or early 20s, according to NAMI, and for women, it is usually in the late 20s to early 30s.

    Diagnosing schizophrenia can be tricky because it shares similar symptoms with depression, bipolar 1 disorder, and the effects of drugs like amphetamines or hallucinogens.

    4. Schizophrenia Can Be Managed With Medications and Therapy

    There is no cure for schizophrenia. This means that most people with this mental health condition will usually have treatment for the rest of their lives. Their symptoms can be managed through taking medications. Some also participate in talk therapy.

    Schizophrenia is usually treated with a group of drugs called antipsychotic medications (or antipsychotics). Second-generation antipsychotics are the most common. These most often come in the form of pills. A few are taken via an injection, and they last longer.

    Some antipsychotics used today include:

    • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
    • Clozapine (Clozaril and Versacloz)
    • Lurasidone (Latuda)
    • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
    • Olanzapine and samidorphan (Lybalvi)
    • Paliperidone (Invega)
    • Quetiapine (Seroquel XR)
    • Risperidone (Risperdal)
    • Ziprasidone (Geodon)

    A group of drugs called antidepressants may also be used for treatment in people with both schizophrenia and depression.

    Read more about specific medications in this list of treatments for schizophrenia, depression, and related conditions.

    Many people who live with schizophrenia also use talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form that can help people improve their quality of life with schizophrenia. CBT helps people become aware of and learn how to change their thoughts and behaviors. Mental health professionals teach skills and techniques that help with this, like acceptance or problem-solving. Self-care for people with schizophrenia can involve incorporating these techniques into their everyday lives.

    5. Depression Can Be a Symptom of Schizophrenia or a Distinct Condition

    Schizophrenia and depression are connected. However, the connection is complex. Sometimes, depression is a symptom of schizophrenia. Other times, it occurs separately. This is called major depression.

    One study looked at 90 people who had schizophrenia but were stable. Of those, 31 percent had symptoms of depression. A more recent study looked at all the research available about the two conditions. Researchers found that 32.6 percent of people with schizophrenia were also diagnosed with depression.

    Having multiple conditions can complicate treatment. Research shows that people living with both schizophrenia and major depression have a lower quality of life than those with schizophrenia alone.

    If you have been diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia, it is important to stay aware of your thoughts, feelings, and mood. Be open and honest with your doctor, psychiatry team, and therapists about your experience. That way, they can help you manage the symptoms of your condition.

    Pay special attention to the increased risk for suicidal behaviors among people with both schizophrenia and depression. Reach out to your doctor or health care team immediately if you have any thoughts of self-harm.

    Note: If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or chatting online.

    Talk With Others Who Understand

    MyDepressionTeam is the social network for people with depression and their loved ones. On MyDepressionTeam, more than 146,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with depression.

    Do you live with schizophrenia? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    References
    1. Schizophrenia — National Institute of Mental Health
    2. Quality of Life for Persons Living With Schizophrenia: More Than Just Symptoms — Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal
    3. Epidemiology and Risk Factors of Schizophrenia — Neuroendocrinology Letters
    4. Are Common Childhood or Adolescent Infections Risk Factors for Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders? — The Medical Journal of Australia
    5. Schizophrenia — Mayo Clinic
    6. Self Reported Cannabis Use as a Risk Factor for Schizophrenia in Swedish Conscripts of 1969: Historical Cohort Study — BMJ
    7. Effects of Cannabis Use on Age at Onset in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder — Schizophrenia Research
    8. Cannabidiol (CBD) as an Adjunctive Therapy in Schizophrenia: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial — The American Journal of Psychiatry
    9. Cannabis Use and Its Association With Psychological Disorders — Psychopharmacology Bulletin
    10. Causes — Schizophrenia — NHS
    11. Could Stress Cause Psychosis in Individuals Vulnerable to Schizophrenia? — CNS Spectrums
    12. What Causes Seasonality of Birth in Schizophrenia? — Neuroscience Research
    13. Risk Factors in Schizophrenia — The British Journal of Psychiatry
    14. Initial Heritability Analyses of Endophenotypic Measures for Schizophrenia: The Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia — Archives of General Psychiatry
    15. Heritability of Schizophrenia and Schizophrenia Spectrum Based on the Nationwide Danish Twin Register — Biological Psychiatry
    16. Schizophrenia Genes, Gene Expression, and Neuropathology: On the Matter of Their Convergence — Molecular Psychiatry
    17. Schizophrenia — National Alliance on Mental Illness
    18. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Schizophrenia: A Review — Focus
    19. What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? — American Psychological Association
    20. Schizophrenia and Depression — Psycom
    21. Prevalence of Depression and Its Relationship With Other Clinical Characteristics in a Sample of Patients With Stable Schizophrenia — Comprehensive Psychiatry
    22. Comorbid Major Depressive Disorder in Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis — Schizophrenia Bulletin
    23. Subjective Quality of Life in First Episode Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders With Comorbid Depression — Psychiatry Research
    24. Symptoms, Subtype, and Suicidality in Patients With Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders — American Journal of Psychiatry
      Updated on April 10, 2024
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      Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D. earned his medical degree from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. Learn more about him here.
      Brooke Dulka, Ph.D. is a freelance science writer and editor. She received her doctoral training in biological psychology at the University of Tennessee. Learn more about her here.
      Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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