The first signs of schizophrenia often appear as confusing, or even shocking, changes in behavior. Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be especially difficult for family members who remember how involved or vivacious a person was before they became ill.
The sudden onset of severe psychotic symptoms is referred to as an “acute” phase of schizophrenia. “Psychosis,” a common condition in schizophrenia, is a state of mental impairment marked by hallucinations, which are disturbances of sensory perception, or delusions, which are false yet strongly held personal beliefs that result from an inability to separate real from unreal experiences. Less obvious symptoms, such as social isolation or withdrawal, or unusual speech, thinking or behavior, may precede, be seen along with or follow the psychotic symptoms.
Distorted Perceptions of Reality
People with schizophrenia may have perceptions of reality that are strikingly different from the reality seen and shared by others around them. Living in a world distorted by hallucinations and delusions, individuals with schizophrenia may feel frightened, anxious and confused.
In part because of the unusual realities they experience, people with schizophrenia may behave very differently at various times. Sometimes they may seem distant, detached or preoccupied and may even sit as rigidly as a stone, not moving for hours or uttering a sound. Other times they may move about constantly — always occupied, appearing wide-awake, vigilant and alert.
Hallucinations and Illusions
Hallucinations and illusions are disturbances of perception that are common in people suffering from schizophrenia. Hallucinations are perceptions that occur without connection to an appropriate source. Although hallucinations can occur in any sensory form — auditory (sound), visual (sight), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell) — hearing voices that other people do not hear is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. Voices may describe the patient’s activities, carry on a conversation, warn of impending dangers, or even issue orders to the individual. Illusions, on the other hand, occur when a sensory stimulus is present but is incorrectly interpreted by the individual.
Delusions are false personal beliefs that are not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and are not explained by a person’s usual cultural concepts. Delusions may take on different themes. For example, patients suffering from paranoid-type symptoms — roughly one-third of people with schizophrenia — often have delusions of persecution, or false and irrational beliefs that they are being cheated, harassed, poisoned or conspired against. These patients may believe that they, or a member of the family or someone close to them, are the focus of this persecution.
In addition, delusions of grandeur, in which a person may believe he or she is a famous or important figure, may occur in schizophrenia. Sometimes the delusions experienced by people with schizophrenia are quite bizarre, such as: believing that a neighbor is controlling their behavior with magnetic waves; that people on television are directing special messages to them; or that their thoughts are being broadcast aloud to others.
Mental Health, N. (2006). Symptoms of Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/symptoms-of-schizophrenia/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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