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Symptoms of Schizophrenia: Five Areas of Disturbance

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Schizophrenia is defined as a group of psychotic disorders involving major disturbances in perception, language, thought, emotion, and behavior; the individual withdraws from people and reality, often into a fantasy life of delusions and hallucinations. Schizophrenia means ‘split mind,’ but the name really refers to the fragmenting of thought processes and emotions found in schizophrenic disorders. Schizophrenia is characterized by psychological disturbances in five areas; perception, language, thought, affect (emotions), and behavior.

Perceptual symptoms can vary from patient to patient. This is because the senses of people with schizophrenia may be either enhanced or blunted. The filtering and selection processes that allow most people to concentrate on whatever he or she chooses are impaired, and sensory stimulation is distorted. People with schizophrenia also experience hallucinations. Hallucinations are sensory perceptions that occur without an external stimulus. They can occur in any of the senses, but auditory hallucinations (hearing voices and sounds) are the most common among schizophrenic patients. People with schizophrenia often hear voices speaking their thoughts aloud, commenting on their behavior, or telling them what to do. Voices tend to come from inside their own heads or from an external source such as an animal, telephone wires, or a TV set. Rarely, people with schizophrenia will hurt others in response to their distorted internal experiences or the voices they hear. Unfortunately, these cases receive undue media attention and create exaggerated fears of ‘mental patients.’ a person with schizophrenia most likely self-destructive and at greater risk of suicide than of violence toward others.

Language and thought disturbances are linked together. To schizophrenics, words can seem to lose all meaning. When thought disturbances are mild, an individual with schizophrenia will tend to jump from topic to topic. Individuals with severe disturbances usually jumble their words together, and he or she creates artificial words. The most common thought disturbances experienced by schizophrenics are distorted beliefs known as delusions. Delusions are defined as being mistaken beliefs maintained in spite of strong evidence to the contrary. In delusions of persecution, individuals believe they are the targets of a plot to harm them. In delusions of reference, unrelated events are given special significance, as when a person believes a radio program or newspaper article is giving him or her a special message.

Emotional disturbances are quite common in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. Emotions are often exaggerated and fluctuate rapidly in inappropriate ways. For example, a person may become extremely fearful, guilty, or euphoric for no reason. In other cases, emotions may become blunted or decreased in intensity. Some people with schizophrenia have flattened affect which is almost no emotional response of any kind.

Behavioral disturbances may take the form of unusual actions that have special meaning. One patient shook his head rhythmically from side to side to try to shake the excess thoughts out of his mind. Another massaged his head repeatedly ‘to help clear it’ of unwanted thoughts. In other cases, the affected person may contort and display unusual mannerisms. These movements, however, may also be side effects of the medication used to treat the disorder. People with schizophrenia may become insensible and assume and uncomfortable, nearly immobile stance for an extended period of time. A few people with schizophrenia also have a symptom called waxy flexibility, a tendency to maintain whatever posture is imposed on them. The abnormal behaviors of individuals with schizophrenia are often related to disturbances in their perception, thoughts, and feeling. For example, experiencing a flood of sensory stimuli or overwhelming confusion, a person with schizophrenia will often withdraw from social contacts and refuse to communicate.

Treatment with antipsychotic drugs is crucial for relieving the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, but has shown variable benefits against the behavioral symptoms of the disorder. Even when patients with schizophrenia are relatively free of psychotic symptoms, many still have great difficulty with communication, motivation, self-care, and establishing and maintaining relationships with others. As a result, many with schizophrenia not only suffer thinking and emotional difficulties, but lack social and work skills and experiences as well.


psychology in action, 6th edition, karen huffman

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